Pressure on Pretoria side who play in-form Sharks tomorrow
WHAT pressure? That was Bulls captain Pierre Spies’s quip this week in reply to questions about whether his team were under pressure after losing their first two games of this Super Rugby season.
He may have said it in jest, but the Pretoria side are undoubtedly feeling the heat as they head into a clash against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld tomorrow, where they will hope to end their winless streak in the Super 15 competition.
The last time the Bulls suffered three straight defeats at the start of a season was in 2005.
They now have an uphill battle to try to prevent a repeat as they face the on-song Sharks.
“Pressure is the nature of the game,” Spies said. “We have been grafting it out to get that [elusive] victory. We now have to bounce back because we want to get our campaign on a roll.”
When it comes to the Bulls there has been one main talking point: the scrum, which has been the side’s achilles heel.
Coach Frans Ludeke, who has steadfastly denied any woes in the scrum, has stuck with the starting front row which battled in the defeats against the Stormers and Hurricanes.
Morne Mellett will stay as the loosehead prop alongside hooker Adriaan Strauss, while Trevor Nyakane continues out of position at tighthead.
Bok Marcel van der Merwe, who has just recovered from a hamstring injury, will provide backup on the bench.
The Bulls are wary of the threat posed by a Sharks scrum with Bok siblings Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis.
“They have a good scrum setup, they are quality. But we’ve done our preparations and we have to put them under pressure. We want to improve,” captain Spies said.
Ludeke has made only one change to his starting XV. Scrumhalf Rudy Paige gets his first start of the season as Piet van Zyl, who started the previous two games, falls out entirely.
Ludeke denied dropping Van Zyl as a result of his poor performance against the Hurricanes last weekend, explaining the change was rotational.
“No, it’s pure rotation. Now with [wingers] Travis [Ismaiel] and Akona [Ndungane] back from injury, we have three No 9s. Francois [Hougaard] can make an impact in the outside backs,” the coach said.
“Hougie has played well, so we have stuck with him.
“Akona could not take part in any of the warm-up games – he’s been out for a long time now, so we want certainty. Travis was only out for two weeks. He played well against the Cheetahs. I’m taking nothing away from Akona’s experience.”
The Bulls have stressed their hunger to bounce back this weekend, especially in a derby against their coastal rivals.
“That’s the nature of the competition – when the SA teams play each other we bring out the best in each other,” Spies said.
“We want this victory. We want to improve. We know that the easy game was last weekend. We are desperate to improve this week.”
The match will kick off at 5.05pm tomorrow.
The Bulls team is: Jesse Kriel, Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht, Francois Hougaard, Handre Pollard, Rudy Paige, Pierre Spies, Lappies Labuschagne, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield, Jacques du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Morne Mellett. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling, Grant Hattingh, Hanro Liebenberg, Travis Ismaiel, Tian Schoeman, Jurgen Visser, Marcel van der Merwe.