Bulls face lots of ‘friendly fire’

2015-01-26 13:02
Deon Stegmann (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Three-time Super Rugby champions the Bulls won’t find that their pre-season campaign gets any easier when they tackle English Premiership side Saracens at their Allianz Park, north London stronghold on Saturday.

The game (kick-off 17:15 SA time) is due to be screened live on SuperSport 1 and CSN, after the Loftus-based side played out a 30-13 win minus the glare of television cameras against Super Rugby rivals the Cheetahs in Polokwane on Saturday.

There are few better ways to get European-stationed expatriate rugby players’ juices flowing than by pitting them against South African-based compatriots, and it seems Sarries – currently third in the Premiership behind Northampton and Bath – will be in a position to field several against the presumably still rusty Bulls.

Various “Saffers” in the home team ranks appeared to come through their latest match at the weekend, an uncompromising 18-6 away loss to Clermont Auvergne, reasonably unscathed and despite the loss they have reached the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup.

Five southern African-born players (if you throw in tough-as-teak Namibian flanker Jacques Burger) were involved in that match, either as starters or off the bench, and you can bet your last dollar they will have a special desire to be in the mix again this weekend.

So apart from Burger, who ought to come up against at least one Springbok on the side of the Bulls scrum in the form of fetcher Deon Stegmann, the scene is set for some other potentially spicy, all-SA match-ups.

Sarries captain and beanpole lock Alistair Hargreaves (ex-Sharks) may find that he is pitted against legendary lineout master Victor Matfield, although the veteran will apparently get very limited (if any) game-time as he is cotton-wooled instead for the needs of Super Rugby.

 The Bulls have the drawback in the second row already of Flip van der Merwe being ruled out for the first few weeks, so will not take major chances in the quest to preserve the good health of Matfield.

Fit-again Bulls captain Pierre Spies will get a good workout if he encounters former Cats/Lions favourite Ernst Joubert in the No 8 berth during the tussle – Joubert came off the “splinters” against Clermont in the 59th minute as a replacement for Kelly Brown.

Behind the scrum, the midfield tussle may be highlighted by Bok incumbent Jan Serfontein policing Durban-born England stalwart Brad Barritt, whilst if the evergreen, 36-year-old Neil de Kock – last Bok cap against New Zealand in 2003 – turns out at scrumhalf, he could be up against another more current Test figure in Francois Hougaard.

The last-named player may be under pressure to nail down a routine start for the Bulls this year; slippery substitute Piet van Zyl reportedly played a major role in tilting the balance of the Cheetahs match when introduced in the second half.

It seems the Bulls blew hot and cold – perhaps no surprise in that, in late January – against the Cheetahs, so they will look to up their performance level against Saracens, considering that their Super Rugby opener is against arch-rivals the Stormers only a fortnight on from it.

They have a squad this year that looks capable of challenging for a top-six finish and resultant playoffs ticket, although the Sarries fixture ought to give their supporters a decent clue as to whether coach Frans Ludeke is genuinely keen to evolve their oft-maligned game-plan in 2015. 

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    bulls  |  deon stegmann  |  rugby

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