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    Bulls hope to erase memories

    2014-02-14 12:33

    Johannesburg - The Bulls will go into this year's Super Rugby season hoping to erase from their memories their semi-final match against the Brumbies where they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

    The three-time Super Rugby champions went into last year's competition with the odds stacked against them to challenge for the title.

    However, they punched above their weight to claim the South African conference trophy for a home semi-final against former Springbok coach Jake White's Brumbies.

    What should have been their crowning glory, instead turned into heartbreak for the Loftus faithful when the match took a farcical turn.

    Bulls captain Dewald Potgieter refused to take the points, on three occasions, which would have given his side a crucial buffer in the last 20 minutes of the match.

    Those decisions came back to bite Potgieter as the Brumbies scored at the death to see the Australian franchise advance to the final against the Chiefs.

    The drama will be dead and buried when the team open their campaign against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.

    The Bulls have had to rebuild their squad following a mass exodus of senior players including prolific points scorer Morne Steyn, Juandre Kruger, Potgieter and Chiliboy Ralepelle.

    In all, the Bulls lost 15 players who featured in last year's competition and have started a process of rebuilding the squad with talented youngsters.

    Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said he was confident the team still had the required player depth to see them through the long and demanding season.

    "We have players with experience in Super Rugby and, in the last couple of years, leaders have come through in certain positions after we have given them the responsibilities," Ludeke said.

    The team's successes in recent years had been attributed to the franchise's ability to grow their depth from within and adopting the same structures from the junior levels right through to the senior squad.

    While Victor Matfield's decision to come out of a two-year retirement has attracted criticism from certain quarters, he brings valuable experience to the squad.

    The side will be looking to build a winning culture and the fact that Matfield has captained the Pretoria-based franchise to all three of their Super Rugby titles -- in 2007, 2009 and 2010 -- will go a long way in achieving that.

    Captain Pierre Spies boasts 102 Super Rugby caps and the Bulls will need his experience to settle the younger players' nerves.

    "With Pierre and Victor in the side they make a massive difference for us as they have a couple of Super Rugby games behind them," Ludeke said.

    "That is all you need -- guys that know what to do."

    The Bulls have a wealth of young talent in their ranks with the centre combination of Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht set to grow in stature.

    The departure of points machine Steyn will no doubt leave a void in the team and Louis Fouche, his understudy over the last two seasons, will have massive boots to fill.

    While Fouche has been entrusted with the number-10 jersey, he will have young prospect Handre Pollard breathing down his neck.

    Ludeke believes the 24-year-old Fouche would be up for the task after learning the ropes from Steyn.

    "Morne has been one of the country's best flyhalves for almost a decade and Louis has been playing under him and he learnt from him, so he can't wait to make his mark," the Bulls coach said.

    "He (Fouche) comes out of the system which makes it easier for someone who is almost new to the team, although he's been at the Bulls for almost four years."

    His success will also depend on whether Springbok scrumhalf Francois Hougaard is able to revive his form after two injury-inflicted seasons.

    The Bulls received an early setback when flank prodigy Arno Botha suffered a similar knee injury which kept him on the sidelines for the last six months in their pre-season match against the Stormers in Polokwane.

    Attention will now fall on the inexperienced loose forward duo of Jacques du Plessis and Jono Ross, who only have five Super Rugby matches between them.

    The Bulls will be looking to set an early marker in their the opening two months on South African soil before they go on their tour of Australasia and face the Waratahs, Force, Highlanders and Hurricanes.

    Their campaign will depend on whether their young talent are able to adapt to the pressures of playing in the relentless Super Rugby competition.

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