Pretoria - It may be a tad early to suggest it, but the biggest threat to the Bulls' domination of South African rugby could be the successors to the captaincy duo of Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.
GALLERY: Bulls fans step out in Soweto
After the team powered their way to their third Super 14 title in four years by beating the Stormers at Orlando Stadium on Saturday, the Bulls certainly put their stamp on Super 14 rugby, matching the Blues in the Super 10 and the Crusaders in the Super 12 as the teams of that competition.
As next year will bring the newest version – a local starter of derbies before the international playoffs for the Super 15 – this Bulls team is one that will be remembered along with the strongest line-ups in Super rugby history.
It certainly has been an impressive period since Heyneke Meyer took the helm – ironically with Frans Ludeke at his side as assistant – and built the core of the team that has endured so much success over the past few years.
But with next year’s World Cup setting a time limit on the local careers of Matfield and Du Preez, the Bulls will need to seek a worthy replacement for the duo if they are to continue their domination over South African rugby.
It won’t be easy. Those who have watched rugby a lot longer than the rest of us will admit that players of the quality of Du Preez and Matfield only come along once in a generation. They are world class and have no peer on the international rugby scene.
Du Preez for instance, almost single handidly destroyed England in the Pool game of the 2007 World Cup, had seven minutes of brilliance in the 2009 Super 14 final where he scored twice, and set up Bryan Habana for a try as the Bulls flattened the Chiefs early on.
And then on Saturday he produced another masterful game of control, not only supplying the sublime pass for Francois Hougaard’s try, but harassing the Stormers with his tactical game and impressive all round play.
But Du Preez is heading for Japan after next year’s World Cup and at the moment, there isn’t a scrumhalf close to him. Not to be harsh on the successors, but it will take some doing to get close to his form.
Matfield is also likely to retire after the World Cup and while the Bulls have some of the most promising locks in world rugby, it will be a tough task to replace him, both as lineout kingpin and as leader of a team that has achieved so much together.
Ludeke was right in pointing to Matfield and Du Preez as the “heartbeat” of the team.
"The heartbeat of this team is Victor (Matfield) and Fourie (Du Preez)," Ludeke said after the triumph in Soweto. "Their technical ability to read the game is unbelievable. They make the right calls at the right times and even when we fall behind in games they never panic. We have been blessed with two great players and two great leaders."
Luckily for the Bulls, they have had Meyer, who built this team from nothing, behind the scenes this season working on the next generation of stars.
And if the Vodacom Cup victory is anything to go by, the three senior trophies that currently reside in the Bulls trophy cabinet – the Super 14, Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup – could be there for a while.
Deadly duo (Gallo Images)