The Vodacom Bulls will limp into Queenstown on Monday to nurse their wounds and get themselves up and ready for Saturday’s second tour challenge against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
According to the supersport.com website, the Bulls have chosen the holiday resort for a few days before heaing to Dunedin on Thursday, and it couldn’t come at a better time as they lost both Dewald Potgieter (torn bicep) and Deon Stegmann (torn groin muscle) on Saturday. Both flanks headed home after the game, and will be assessed in South Africa but both are set to be out for long periods as the Bulls now have lost four Springbok flankers this season to long term injuries. The team doctor’s initial assessment is that Potgieter will miss six months of action while Stegmann will be out for around 6-8 weeks. A final length will be confirmed by the scans the two players have in South Africa though.
The arrival of Wimpie van der Walt on Monday morning will add some depth but it is likely that Jono Ross will return to the fetcher’s role this weekend as the Bulls look to get become the first South African side to get a win in Australasia. Grant Hattingh’s second half performance was enough to convince the management he can cover at 7 and 8 for the side, with a decision needing to be taken whether or not to play Victor Matfield this weekend or keep him as cover.
The management have indicated Matfield will step into the other role in the team and cover one of the players’ who have left for home, but originally it was hoped he would sit out for the four weeks the team are away from home. There is no doubt the Bulls missed Matfield’s prowess and experience on Saturday, but Flip van der Merwe deserves special credit for keeping the team together in a first half where they were forced to make over 100 tackles and didn’t see the ball much. Van der Merwe was the team’s top tackler with 19 tackles and while the lineout didn’t function as it should, he was a colossus in the loose.
The other big worry is flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter’s leg injury. Coach Frans Ludeke said afterwards it was a real concern but that he believed it was more a dead leg scenario than anything too serious. If Potgieter can’t play then Handre Pollard will get his first start in Super Rugby, and a much deserved one after the excellent try he scored on Saturday. Team doctor Org Strauss believes Potgieter can train again on Tuesday, as can Jurgen Visser, who hurt his ankle, so it will be interesting to see what the selection process will be?
Ludeke was disappointed at the loss, but praised his side’s fighting ability. What the coach didn’t say was the unhappiness there was with a suspect scrum penalty by Steve Walsh, which effectively handed the game to the Hurricanes with six minutes to go. But the Bulls have accepted the result and will move on to Dunedin hoping their injury cloud lifts and they can get the game plan executed well on the South Island.
“It’s always great to start off a tour with a win but it was so close at the end. We had to do some damage management in that first half but we kept our defensive lines and clawed our way back to finish within three for the first half,” Ludeke said. “Then the second half we had more field position and at one stage it was great to have the lead as well. At the end we were just short – that penalty at the scrum was the difference between the two sides. I thought we played well in that second half and had a few opportunities but couldn’t convert so easily.
“It was a massive effort from the team on defence, absorbing all that pressure. There are a lot of positives for us going ahead on the tour.” Ludeke said he wasn’t worried that his team have had little ball in their last two games, rather looking at the positives of how well they adapted to coming under attack from two excellent attacking sides.
“New Zealand sides like to run from within their own half – and they see any type of possession as attacking possession. They like to keep the ball and put up the phases, but I thought we broke their rhythm, getting some great turnovers in the first half and especially in the second half. In the end it was pretty even. “It was so close, playing in New Zealand and we feel like we missed out. But that’s Super Rugby and we need to bounce back from that. There are things we need to fine turn and work on. We still have the whole tour ahead of us, we’re playing the Highlanders next week – we have a short week. We have to get the players recovered and ready for that game this week after we lost some with injuries.”
The Bulls know it will be more of the same this week when they face the Highlanders. What they also know is their chances of success rest firmly on their own shoulders.