More milestones for Bulls
If there were points for milestones, the Vodacom Bulls would have won a few of their own as they selected their team to face the Western Force at Loftus Versfeld this Saturday.
For while it is still their strongest available squad, the team includes no fewer than five black players - the largest such contingent in the Bulls' Vodacom Super Rugby history.
While numbers have long passed being a factor in team selection, the Bulls have overcome both the injuries to JJ Engelbrecht and their loose forwards Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann, as well as a late withdrawal from Akona Ndungane when his ankle flared up again to post this team.
The team also includes a milestone 50th cap for lock Flip van der Merwe, while Sampie Mastriet will replace Ndungane for his debut selection after a long wait to take the step up.
There was also good news for those following the career of IRB Junior Player of the year Jan Serfontein as he was selected on the bench, with Francois Venter missing out on the 22 altogether in what coach Frans Ludeke called a “squad rotation policy”.
Lionel Mapoe gets the chance at outside centre to start making his claim for a position in the Springbok backline while Jacques Potgieter and Arno Botha aren’t too shabby as replacements for the other Potgieter and Stegmann respectively.
On the bench, former Free State junior Jean Cook gets his chance to make an impression as he could make his Super Rugby debut, after a number of good performances at lower levels.
Mastriet’s elevation is a great reward for the speedster, who has impressed already with the Springbok Sevens.
“Sampie had a good Currie Cup and he is an exciting player,” Ludeke explained, “Throughout his career, when in broken field and space, he can be devastating. This is a great opportunity and he has been working towards this for four years.”
Despite their obvious favourites tag against the Force this weekend, the Bulls are a bit wary, especially as they perennially struggle against the Force.
“I think the Force showed in that game against the Rebels what they are capable of. They were threatening to win that game away from home. They’ve got a solid, experienced front row, their loose forwards form a strong combination. They can score because they can keep the ball for long phases,” Ludeke added.
But while the Bulls are right to fear a better performance from their opposition this weekend, they also know if they do their job and execute their game-plan, they should receive another morale boost before they head on tour next week.
VODACOM BULLS: Zane Kirchner, Sampie Mastriet, Lionel Mapoe, Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies, Jacques Potgieter, Arno Botha, Juandre Kruger, Flip vd Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morne Mellet.
Replacements: Willie Wepener, Frik Kirsten, Grant Hattingh, Jean Cook, Jano Vermaak, Louis Fouche, Jan Serfontein