Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The Vodacom Bulls may have more than just their normal sense of motivation for this Friday’s Vodacom Super Rugby opener against the DHL Stormers at Loftus Versfeld.
According to the supersport.com website, there is no doubt that for many of the Bulls players 2012 is a year they would rather forget. There were no cups in the cupboard and many of their stellar careers at Springbok level came crashing down as they failed to hold the same sense of form and momentum that got them there in the first place.
An accurate analysis will point to the loss of over 500 Super Rugby caps at the beginning of last season, and while this is a valid point, the Bulls senior players that stayed were forced to take a long hard look at themselves in the off-season as to their roles as leaders in the team.
The coincidental slump in form for regular stalwarts such as Pierre Spies, Morne Steyn and others overflowed into their Springbok form and eventually saw them lose their places as hungrier, more in-form players kept knocking on the door.
Now, while the Stormers will arrive at Loftus as favourites, the Bulls know they need to stand up to be counted. Markers can be laid down at the beginning of the season and while there are so many games before the international season begins, the earlier an impression is made the better.
Yet there is another side to this. It isn’t only a motive to prove form to the rest of the country, and regain the form that was lost. At the Bulls nowadays there are a host of talented youngsters knocking on the door, talent that won’t wait forever and the senior players in the team know all too well they will need to perform if they are to keep their places.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke made it clear in his team selection he was backing his senior players for the job, and with 1000 Super Rugby caps between them, experience will be a massive factor for the team when they take the field on Friday.
But while those caps and experience may be crucial in rising to the challenge, the Bulls need to rise to the challenge with their senior players leading the way.
Captain Spies, one of those who has walked the line of criticism over the past year, will face down against the Bok incumbent Duanne Vermeulen, and allow himself a measure of the man who replaced him at Bok level, albeit because of injury.
Spies told journalists that while it is about winning; the Bulls see this as much as a test of their own abilities as anything else. They simply need to know where they stand in the South African pecking order, and playing the most consistent side in South Africa over the past two years will give them that answer.
“You want to get that momentum from the start, and especially when you are playing at home,” Spies said.
“What better way than to face the Stormers – who were the best team in South Africa last year – first up? For us it’s a great challenge to kick off the year to measure ourselves.”
Spies is too streetsmart to get caught up in word games in the media, but the Bulls know they will be measured in this clash, and that will be their motivation this coming Friday.