PRETORIA — The Bulls will have some extra motivation when they face the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday as Victor Matfield has been rested for the match, which could see him miss out on his 150th Super Rugby game if the side do not reach the playoffs.
With 147 Super Rugby caps currently to his name, Matfield was set to reach the milestone in their final match of the regular season — against the Cheetahs in Pretoria — had he played in all the remaining matches.
Instead he will be rested according to the Saru agreement and he will now hope the Bulls keep their playoff hopes alive against a well-balanced Brumbies side.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said although they faced one of their biggest encounters on their tour, he was confident they had the right plan prepared to deal with the wily Australians.
“It is about execution and it is two desperate sides and it is a must-win for both sides,” Ludeke said.
“We need to be at our best and everyone recovered well, we travelled well from New Zealand, so don’t have any excuses.”
The Bulls took a serious slide on the rankings following their defeat to the Chiefs with the Stormers replacing them at the top of the South African Conference, while the Lions also leapfrogged past them on the log.
The Pretoria side currently occupy eighth place on the overall standings with the Lions a point ahead of them.
Ludeke made six changes to the starting XV that went down to the Chiefs last weekend.
Jurgen Visser, who travelled to Australasia after Jan Serfontein was ruled out for the rest of the tour due to a knee injury, will earn a starting berth at fullback in the place of Jesse Kriel.
Kriel suffered a knee contusion against the Chiefs and will be used sparingly from the bench while Burger Odendaal will replace Serfontein in midfield.
“Jesse has a little bit of a niggle, he is not a 100% fit, but it gives us something else and they have a strong kicking game and field position will be huge factor in that game,” Ludeke said during a teleconference yesterday.
Among the forwards, Grant Hattingh moves into the run-on side to replace Matfield, while Adriaan Strauss is back as starting hooker ahead of Callie Visagie.
Trevor Nyakane, who has been in superb form this season, will move to the bench with Dean Greyling replacing him.
“We have Wors [Dean Greyling] back and we are obviously managing Trevor Nyakane, who has not had a rest opportunity this season and he’s been playing really well for us.”
Arno Botha will take up his position as blindside flank at the expense of Jacques du Plessis, who moves to the bench.
Ludeke believed facing the Brumbies with an all-round game would create a Test-like contest that will be won or lost up front.
“It is going to be a battle up front and it is the basics of the game where you secure a platform to attack from or to launch and exit,” Ludeke said.
Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Francois Hougaard, JJ Engelbrecht, Burger Odendaal, Bjorn Basson, Handré Pollard, Rudy Paige, Pierre Spies (c), Arno Botha, Deon Stegmann, Grant Hattingh, Flip van de Merwe, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Trevor Nyakane, Werner Kruger, Jacques du Plessis, Lappies Labuschagne, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel