Hougi setback as Bulls name team
Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke did as expected as he named his side for the Vodacom Super Rugby showdown at Newlands with the DHL Stormers this Saturday, bringing back midfielder Francois Venter for the injured Jan Serfontein in the midfield.
Ludeke also elevated Junior Boks star Jacques du Plessis to the bench for the 19-year-old colossus to perhaps get his first cap in the southern hemisphere competition this weekend.
But what wasn’t expected was the absence of Francois Hougaard, whose ankle injury flared up again and he was forced to withdraw from the team only hours before it was officially named.
Hougaard, who limped off with the ankle strain in the 20-19 win over the Sharks on Saturday, had looked fine earlier in the week, but the bone bruising caused too much pain for him to continue.
In his place Bok halfback Jano Vermaak, who scored the winning try against the Sharks, will start the game, with Rudy Paige on the bench.
“It’s a pity,” Ludeke told journalists at the team announcement, “but his ankle injury came back and while it is nothing serious, he needs a rest. Jano is ready to start so we have no worries. He couldn’t train pain free and as soon as he can he will be back.”
Du Plessis is in the team because of the two-match suspension for Steenkamp, and with Bok Juandre Kruger already in France, the Bulls decided to prefer Du Plessis’ youth and enthusiasm ahead of Paul Willemse’s lack of match fitness. Willemse will play for the under-21 side this weekend.
The 19-year-old Du Plessis is certainly headed for bigger things, and at least physically won’t be out of place at Newlands, standing at 2.01m and weighing in at 119kg.
“Wilhelm is an experienced player and he perfectly fits the profile of what we needed, so it is a pity. It’s part of the game, and Jacques will come onto the bench. He has played in that position and he is an exciting player for the future, and being his first game if there are one or two things that don’t go right we understand. We’re confident in his ability though,” Ludeke added.
“We have the right mix starting in the game and the right mix on the bench to give us some impact and to apply pressure. He’s a youngster but he is good enough and he will add something when he comes on.”
The Bulls know they have to win on Saturday to ensure their spot at the top of the overall log, and while they are certainly set for a playoff match, it waits to be seen where and against whom they will play.
If the results all go against them this weekend, technically they can still end third, and may have to play next week while a victory will ensure a home semifinal in a fortnight and possibly a home final if they make it that far.
VODACOM BULLS: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Francois Venter, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Dewald Potgieter, Jacques Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Grant Hattingh, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling.
Replacements: Callie Visagie, Frik Kirsten, Morné Mellet, Jacques du Plessis, Jono Ross, Rudy Paige, Jürgen Visser.