Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - Less than 24 hours after getting the good news on the injuries to midfielder Johan Sadie and Flip van der Merwe, the Vodacom Bulls have been rocked by the news that their fetcher, Deon Stegmann, will not be ready for Saturday’s clash against the Reds at Loftus Versfeld.
Stegmann, who withdrew a day before the clash against the Blues, is still struggling with a hamstring injury, and while he could be pushed to make the clash, the Bulls medical team have ruled it better that he rather take the time and ensure his fitness for the Stormers clash a week later.
The loss is a bit of a body blow to the Bulls hopes, as against the Blues they struggled at the breakdowns, and while youngster CJ Stander did well to replace him in the game, he is not an out-and-out fetcher and fulfills a different role in the forward exchanges.
Stander is likely to be the replacement for Stegmann again, with the Bulls likely to put a premium on ball retention at the breakdown, and have been working hard on rectifying their errors from the Blues game, a match they were behind from the word go.
The Reds may have limped into Gauteng with injuries and suspensions occupying their mind, but they are the type of side that will back themselves for a win wherever they are, and their first half performance against the Sharks showed why they are defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions.
The team is a far cry from the one that lost by 90 points at Loftus in 2007 and is a much more balanced outfit, despite their injuries, with a strong setpiece and some attacking flair out wide.
The Bulls will however, have an interesting decision on the bench if Stander is preferred in Stegmann’s place. The obvious replacement, SA under-20 captain Arno Botha is another fine talent with a big future, but is also not a recognised fetcher in the team.
The closest the Bulls have to such a fetcher is Warwick Tecklenburg, who is playing in the Vodacom Cup at the moment, but may not have the all-round game that Botha possesses.
Whatever the decision taken this week in Stegmann’s absence, the Bulls will face some telling questions as the season goes on for their lack of a back-up to the Springbok flanker. Dewald Potgieter, when he returns from an arm-injury, is one option who has fulfilled the task in the past, but is more comfortable on the blindside.
The only other changes expected from the side that lost to the Blues is a return for Sadie to partner Wynand Olivier in the midfield, while Francois Hougaard’s return from his one-match ban will see him move back into the halfback position. The team will be announced on Wednesday.