Ludeke: Akona still class act
Pretoria - It is strange when the only criticism of a team selection is about a rugby player that has played 66 times for the Bulls and scored 24 tries, including one in a Super 14 final.
The inclusion of Akona Ndungane on the wing in place of Gerhard van den Heever was the only "eyebrow-raising" one when Bulls coach Frans Ludeke on Wednesday announced the team that will play the Cheetahs on Saturday.
Ndungane this year had one game as substitute and one in the starting line-up after being hamstrung by serious leg injuries for two years and now again has the opportunity to show supporters why he was part of the 2007 World Cup squad.
Ludeke said he had no hesitation in handing Ndungane another chance in the starting line-up.
"Akona was excellent in the game against the Chiefs. He played on short notice and showed that he hadn't lost any of his skills or hunger to play at the highest level."
Ndungane lost his place when Ludeke's preferred players on the wing, Francois Hougaard and Bjorn Basson, were fit for the next game against the Rebels.
"Akona did nothing wrong when he got the opportunity and I wanted to give him game time at the next available opportunity. That has happened now and I have no problem with him starting again," said Ludeke.
Van den Heever's ability to play outside centre, wing and fullback actually counted against him.
"We are fortunate that Gerhard is able to play in so many positions. He showed against the Sharks how good he is at fullback and he could also play outside centre if necessary. It's due to that ability that I decided to rather keep him on the bench because we won't easily get in trouble with him as cover," explained Ludeke.
The only other difficult selection was on the flank, where Danie Rossouw could consider himself unlucky to have to stand back for Dewald Potgieter. Rossouw has played some of the best rugby of his career the last few weeks.
"Dana (Rossouw) is excellent. He has been getting us over the advantage line in recent times and adds a lot of value to the team on attack."
Ludeke, however, states that Potgieter, Pierre Spies and Deon Stegmann have been his preferred loose-trio for a long time.
"As a unit they fit into the pattern the best. They have also been playing together for so long that they complement one another well."
Francois Hougaard's ankle injury was fortunately not as serious as was initially feared and he will play on Saturday. Dustin Jinka is the only newcomer to the team and will make his Super Rugby debut if he gets to play.
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling
Substitutes: 16 Gary Botha, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Dustin Jinka, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Gerhard van den Heever
15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Corné Uys, 11 Philip Snyman, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Kabamba Floors, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen
Substitutes: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen/Hendrik Roodt, 19 Johan Wessels, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Naas Olivier, 22 Hennie Daniller