Pretoria - The Bulls will have to overcome injuries to key personnel and an imminent player exodus if they want to win their fourth Super Rugby crown.
The June international window has been particularly brutal to the Pretoria-based side. Captain Pierre Spies and breakthrough star Arno Botha were the biggest casualties from their Springbok duties, and will miss the rest of the season.
In-form scrumhalf Jano Vermaak suffered a serious hamstring injury in the Boks’ first Test against Italy in Durban, but could still participate in the remainder of the Bulls' campaign.
To add to their woes, Wynand Olivier and lock Juandre Kruger both leave the team for greener pastures after Saturday’s match against the Southern Kings in Pretoria.
Ever the optimist, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said while the loss of Spies and Botha was a blow to their campaign, he had confidence in their replacements.
“You never anticipate losing players for the rest of the season, despite niggling injuries, which are part of the game,” Ludeke said this week.
“We always knew we needed depth in the competition to be competitive week in and week out.
“We have confidence in the guys who will step in there against the Kings in a South African derby.”
To demonstrate how the exodus of players would impact the Bulls, Ludeke named Dewald Potgieter, who joins the Yamaha Rugby Club in Japan after the Super Rugby season, as captain.
The flank, who has captained the Blue Bulls at Currie Cup level before, said the departing players hoped to finish their tenures with the Bulls on a high note, with the southern hemisphere provincial title behind their names.
“We are in a good position and there is a lot of expectancy on the Bulls. If we are in a position that we lose the plot it will be a shame,” Potgieter said.
The Bulls occupy third place overall on the Super Rugby log and could secure a home semi-final, provided the results in their final three round-robin matches go their way.
“This is the business end of the season and this is where the top sides will distinguish themselves from the rest,” Potgieter said.
“We are not just fighting for a top-two spot. If we finish this competition as strongly as we ought to, we can be in a very good position at the end of the round robin stages.”
The Kings will be looking to move up the log as they are second to last on the overall table and would like nothing more than to return to Port Elizabeth with a Bulls scalp in their luggage.
The last time the two sides locked horns, the Bulls scored four tries to beat the Kings 34-0 in the Windy City.
As is often the case in local derbies, the most meaningful battle will be fought among the loose forwards.
“The battle for the gainline will be crucial and realistically the Kings can still achieve a lot, but we have enough men who can get over the advantage line,” Ludeke said.