Bulls to lose lineout king early?
The Vodacom Bulls may be left without their key attacking weapon in the setpieces if they make this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs unless a solution to a contractual impasse is found soon.
Springbok lock Juandre Kruger, who dominated the lineouts in Saturday night’s 30-19 win over the Waratahs at Loftus Versfeld, at this stage will not be available for the Bulls in their last three league games and the playoffs if they make them.
Kruger’s contract with Racing Metro in France starts on 1 July and while he is able to play for the Springboks, the possibility of him playing for the Bulls in the final weeks of Super Rugby looks slim at the moment.
The Bulls are currently in negotiations with Kruger to free him up for those final weeks, but will need to make progress in the next few weeks if they are to have him available.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke told supersport.com he was confident a deal could be made: “We are in negotiations and we are confident we can come to an agreement as he is an important player to us.”
Kruger’s value as an attacking lineout option was never as apparent as against the Waratahs where he marshalled his fellow forwards and stole a number of balls as well to totally destroy the Australian setpiece.
It was a showpiece on how to use the lineout as a weapon in modern rugby and the Waratahs lost no less than seven lineout balls on the night, several of them in crucial attacking positions where they were close to the Bulls' line.
Having already lost the battle to keep Kruger at Loftus, the Bulls will now need to pull out all the stops if the Bok lock is to stay for the final weeks of the competition.
Kruger wouldn’t be drawn into the speculation, other than to say that negotiations were still ongoing, but was a lot more happy to talk about the performance against the Waratahs.
“We’ve always been a team that focuses on our setpieces. We work very hard on them, but we didn’t get the reward in the previous game with all the hard work we put in. We weren’t happy with that and wanted to set a standard. We have had a lot of disruptions this season with injuries, but we’ve gelled well as a unit. Flip (van der Merwe), Pierre (Spies) and myself work well together and read and analyse the opposition well, and it’s very important to be consistent at all times,” Kruger told supersport.com.
“We were sharper and reacted better, all the hard work paid off for us.”
His sentiments were echoed by captain Pierre Spies, who said afterwards the game was turned on the way the lineouts went.
“We worked hard through the week, we wanted to make an impact and we did it well. It’s been a long time since we put a side under pressure like that. Credit must go to Juandre and Flip and the other guys. We were all on the same page and it’s great when it all comes together,” Spies said.
The Bulls have the best working lineout in the business according to stats taken from Sanzar. They have a 89.6% success rate on their own ball and more than once have destroyed an opposition lineout.
Considering the way they played on Saturday night, the lineout, as well as the boot of Morne Steyn, could ultimately count as the difference between the two sides and Kruger’s influence was huge in this.
Under the watchful eye of lineout guru Victor Matfield, Kruger has flourished and will once again be the anchor for the Bok team in the June tests and beyond, with the Bulls loss becoming French gain.