Bulls to cash in on No 2 woes?
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - South African Super Rugby conference leaders the Bulls are sure to target the lineout as an area where they can gain a potentially decisive advantage over the Hurricanes in their first Loftus encounter of 2013 with New Zealand opponents on Saturday (19:10).
It was a department where the Stormers earned some timely poaches off the ‘Canes throw-in during their closely-fought 18-16 triumph at Palmerston North in the last round of fixtures, with the unsung De Kock Steenkamp - not for the first time this season - very much to the fore.
The Bulls also pride themselves on a slick lineout, as befits a franchise which not too long ago boasted the world-renowned prowess of a certain Victor Matfield
, who still pulls key tactical strings from the coaching booth alongside Frans Ludeke
They were dominant in the aerial battle against the Waratahs on Saturday, which went a long way to compensating for the fact that their other set-piece, the scrum, experienced some difficulty from Benn Robinson and company in the no-nonsense ‘Tahs pack before the hosts ran out slightly flattering 30-19 winners.
The Bulls’ No 5 jumper Juandré Kruger had a satisfying personal outing, grabbing some possession off the team from New South Wales and often applying enough pressure to ensure that even when the Waratahs did bank the ball off their own throw, it wasn’t the cleanest of possession to use as an attacking springboard.
Kruger also did enough in general play, where he was sometimes prominent on the drive and in tackling, to serve up hints that he doesn’t intend to merely drift into international obscurity when he takes up new employment with Racing Metro in France
after the Super Rugby season.
The 27-year-old earned eight caps in Heyneke Meyer’s first season as Springbok coach last year, usually combining well in the second row with young sensation Eben Etzebeth
, and knows that the door is not emphatically closed to overseas-based players for ongoing Test selection - especially given the pretty high number of quality customers currently taking that route.
Another decent showing against a high-calibre direct opponent, the Hurricanes’ lanky All Black Jason Eaton, and Kruger may stay well in the Bok frame.
Although there is some speculation that Meyer may choose to invest in a particularly youthful alliance of Etzebeth and the Sharks’ raw but hugely exciting Pieter-Steph du Toit this year, Kruger obviously brings a major edge in experience at No 5 and at this stage is arguably also a better lineout option to Du Toit, whose physical presence and energy in the tight-loose is his main hallmark at present.
The ‘Canes lineout plans at Loftus will only be made more difficult by the fact that they have a mini-crisis at hooker.
New Zealand media has reported that Motu Matu’u, who started at No 2 against the Stormers in the continued absence of first-choice Dane Coles (fractured cheekbone) broke a forearm at Palmerston North and has not travelled with the mid-table Hurricanes squad, who play the Bulls and Cheetahs respectively in South Africa in what could be
make-or-break matches for them.
Ash Dixon, who is 24 but a novice at Super Rugby level, is expected to fill the void in the key position, and it may take a while for him to find the necessary synergy with the pack’s main jumpers.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing