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Bulls “forced” to make changes

February 28, 2013 in Rugby - Bulls

Hi all,

In my post prior to the Bulls’ opening game I said that the team selection was a bit conservative in my view. However the 22 guys that made the cut did their job and put four points in the bag.

Bulls team for Saturday against the Force:

15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Mornè Mellett
Substitutes: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouchè , 22 Jan Serfontein

With injuries to Stegman, Potgieter and JJ Engelbrect the Bulls management has been forced to make some changes and exciting changes they are.

Sampie Mastriet comes in for Engelbrecht and in turn, Mapoe moves to outside centre and Olivier moves to inside centre. Sampie is an exciting player with LOTS of gas and I hope he gets more opportunities than Mapoe did on Friday night. Mapoe will be closer to the action this time around and I hope he can display some of his running and stepping skills that we know he possesses. With Olivier at 12 we can expect the same tried and tested combination between Steyn and Olivier, I just pray that Olivier makes some passes to the exciting players on his outside. I wonder if there is any correlation between Wynand’s reluctantcy to pass and his playing in the Japan league. Surely there, against much weaker and smaller opposition, Wynand was able to run, break tackles and gain big chunks of ground without ever considering to make a pass. If this is the case the Bulls management should pull him aside and rectify it, or pick someone that is willing to distribute. Just a thought…..

In the loose trio, Potgieter and Stegman were injured and they will be replaced with Arno Botha (7) and Jacques Potgieter (6) respectively. The fact that the Bulls won’t have an out and out fetcher does not concern me a great deal especially against a Force team that no longer have David Pocock playing for them. What excites me, however, is that in Spies and Potgieter they have two very fast and very strong runners and Arno Botha could be the link that puts these boys into some space/on the front foot. On Friday night Arno was everywhere and provided good support when Stegman and/or Spies broke some tackles.

Every time Dewaldt Potgieter comes back I hope that he gets through his first game, but he has rotten luck when it comes to injuries. At one point in his career he was being touted as a possible Bok captain but sadly the numerous injuries have curtailed his progress.

Having said all of that, I am EXTREMELY happy to see young Serfontein on the bench. The kid has buckets of talent and promises to be a very exciting player. I hope he gets an opportunity to strut his stuff, and begins to stake a claim for a starting position.

I think the Bulls have the squad to go all the way, but they might just fall short due to some inexperience in some positions. I mean, losing to Bok flanks and being able to replace them with another two Bok flanks shows good depth. Player rotation and morale management (of the players that warm the bench or don’t make the 22) will be crucial though.

I am hoping a for a win with four tries for the bonus point. Even if th win is only by 1……….

Finally! The wait is over! Bring on the S15!

February 19, 2013 in Rugby - Bulls

It has been a very long time since my last post and hopefully I will get into the habit of posting regularly in the future.

But before I get to the rugga, just a quick mention of the Proteas.

There has been a lot happening on the cricket front but I have just not had the time to write something about Graeme and his team of winners. I just want to congratulate the Proteas on their performances against the Ausies, Black Caps and Spot-Cheaters (Probably not fair to call them that anymore but hey, I still don’t trust any result that they are involved in). The lads have shown that killer instinct as well as a willingness to dig in and fight back whenever the situation required it. Well done! I hope at some point over the next 18 months we can translate our test arena dominance into ODI and to a lesser extent T20 success.

This past weekend, the S15 got underway with matches between the Aussie teams and all that I can say is that I could not watch more than 5 minutes at a time as the quality of rugby wasn’t very good. Not having seen the Tahs in action (They had a bye) I can’t comment on the Aussie conference as a whole but I dont see any of the teams progressing to the play off stages, except of course, the team that finishes top of the conference and gets a free ticket, even though they might not deserve it. I have to say though, of the four Aussie teams that were in action, the Brumbies looked the best and with their major new signing, David Pocock, will probably be the team to beat in the Aussie conference. Now watch the Tahs prove me wrong over the weekend!

That being said, the focus of this weekend’s matches for me, will be the Bulls vs Stormers.

Being a Bulls supporter since i was old enough to sleep with a rugby ball in my crib, I am salivating at the prospect that awaits us at Loftus on Friday evening. A traditional North-South derby to get us started is a great way to gauge where the balance of power will lie looking forward at the rest of the tournament. Both teams made the play-off’s last year with the Stromers winning the conference and the Bulls and Sharks getting through with their standings on the overall log. However, the Bulls couldn’t muster a good performance against the Crusaders and once again, the Stormers choked on the big stage of a semi final. I was actually impressed that the Bulls made it to the play-offs as they lost the core of their team after the 2011 RWC. But, as they say, that is history and doesn’t count for much on Friday.

This season though, I feel that the Bulls will be triumphant at Loftus. I reckon that without Burger and Etzebeth the Stromers pack will lack that grunt in their pack that is always needed to beat a Bulls side. And with the form that Hougaard is in (when he is not texting models and based on the game against the Cheetah’s) and Morne Steyn finding his kicking boots (hopefully not those purple ones) I feel that the Bulls will have the edge.

Victor Matfield has also been added to the Bulls coaching staff and will bring with him invaluable experience and expertise. This, coupled with a healthy competition for a place in the starting 22 across most of the positions, bodes well for the men in blue for Friday night and the rest of the season.

The team selection for Friday night was conservative in my view,  but playing against last year’s conference winners and losing semi finalists, I can understand that the coaching staff went for experience in stead of the bags full of young talent that the Bulls currently possess. It would have been unfair to expect Ulrich Beyers, Jan Serfontein or Francois Venter to take on De Villiers, Habana, Aplon and Taute in a very important game (Could possibly determine the conference winner). It is a bit disappointing that only one of these undeniable talents made it onto the bench. Im also disappointed that Arno Botha did not get the knod in place of Stegmann, but all things considered, not the worst 22 that they could have picked.

Im looking forward in particular to the match ups between:

  1. Spies vs Vermeulen

Spies has stated that he wants his Bok jersey back and Duane is the man that he has to get it back from. Pierre has had a long break and I sincerely hope that he will get back to his destructive best for this battle. I have always felt that Pierre should be played in a wider roll after 5 or 6 phases of attack. Only once the defence has been disrupted or placed on the back foot should this man be given the ball, preferably in some space. He will have to up his work rate rate and defence as well.

2.  Kruger vs Bekker

These two alternated in the number 5 jersey for the Boks last year and both have a lot to prove. The line outs promises to be an epic batlle and both these players will want to impress Heyneke early in the season. Personally I don’t rate Bekker because of the fact that when his pack suffers (Usually because he is waiting between the centres) he goes missing. His runs in open field can be devastating though!

3. Steyn vs Jantjies

I will be the first guy to admit that Steyn, based on his form last season should go nowhere near the Springbok number 10 jersey but that being said, Morne is one of those players that will do anything to get back to the top. I heard some encouraging things being said about him from people that watched the Bulls vs Cheetas pre-season game and I pray that his kicking form has returned. He is one of those fly halves that falls apart when he is off target in terms of his place kicking so I reckon that if he is successful with his first attempt it will kick the rest of his game into gear. Elton is a prodigiously talented player and has all the makings of a good fly-half, however, his lack of game time due to the sad passing of his father as well as the fact that he has new team mates, might make things a bit tricky for him.

It will be very interesting to see the changes, if any, the coaches have made to their game plans in the off season. I am sure that the “5 second rule” will force the Bulls to be more attacking or at least do something other than kicking possession away. I see this as a very positive thing because I have witnessed what the Bulls are capable of when they have that attacking mind set and with exciting players like JJ, Mapoe and Basson in the backline, it will only make sense to play that brand of rugby.

I cant wait for Friday evening!!

PS – Good luck to both teams as well as their supporters, I am sure it is going to be a massive game!