The sudden return of Springbok lock Victor Matfield
to the Vodacom Bulls side this week has created a minor headache for coach Frans Ludeke
, but the Bulls have committed themselves to altering their “management” of the lock forward going further in the competition.
According to the supersport.com website, Matfield was supposed to go through the Bulls current tour of Australia and New Zealand as a management member, allowing other players to get opportunities while he is rested ahead of a long slog when the team gets home to try and make the playoffs.
But injuries to Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann both necessitated Matfield’s return to the field for this weekend’s Vodacom Super Rugby game against the Highlanders in Dunedin, but Ludeke did admit the Bulls hope of getting a win outranked managing the player at this stage.
If the Bulls win, it is likely Matfield will be given a break in the next two weeks as the pack is again reshuffled, but it underlines how important the Bulls needs the points on their second game of their four match tour.
“Flip and all the players enjoy playing with Victor. He adds a lot, he is an experienced player,” Ludeke said.
“In terms of managing him, it is a tough situation at the moment. He is keen, but we will be sensible in the way we are going forward.
“We know Flip can play at five and he played there at test level. We know Grant can play there, so we can still mix it around but for this weekend it is a vital one for us on tour.
“It is important for us to get back to winning ways. It is vital for us to secure our setpieces and apply pressure on opposition ball. That will almost tick the box on basics and from there we can build an innings.”
The Bulls lineout creaked a bit in the match against the Hurricanes, not being as secure as they would have liked and nowhere near the standard Matfield sets when he is there. Of course, the other building headache has been the Bulls over-reliance on Callie Visagie, a player whose weekly stats don’t match the enthusiasm the Bulls have in playing him, as well as the growing alarm of a backup as both Bongi Mbonambi (85 minutes play this season in total) and 49-game Super Rugby veteran Bandise Maku have not got a look in.
Ludeke disagreed that the lineouts were less than the Bulls normal standard in Napier, where they lost 25-20 to the Canes, but said they could easily rectify it on the training field.
“Actually it was just 2 or 3 lineouts. The one was a vital one in our own half, we defused it, and they didn’t get points from it,” Ludeke explained.
“But it was small things – timing of supporters for the jumpers and lifters not getting maximum height. It wasn’t the strategy or the call we made, it was just a team thing where you needed all 8 guys in the lineout switched on. It is a small thing, but not something we need to panic about.”
Ludeke has spoken about the combination of Matfield and captain Flip van der Merwe being a “winning combination” and made it clear they are hoping to disrupt the Highlanders in the setpieces.
Like most New Zealand sides they like to play ball in hand, but the Highlanders are known to have strong setpieces as well, so the battle will be interesting.
Ludeke also made himself ready for another week where his team would have to tackle like demons, with almost 350 tackles made in their last two games, and more of the same expected this weekend.
“It’s our second week on tour, we have closure from last weekend. We had our opportunities. It was such a close game, and it was a pity that we couldn’t work another opportunity at the end there. But we’ve put it behind us now,” Ludeke said.
“All the New Zealand sides like to have the ball in hand, like to put phases on and like to try and break you down that way. We had a massive effort on defence, we made more than 200 tackles last week.
“We kept them down to one try. We need the same effort this weekend but hopefully we can balance the ball in hand a little bit more.
“We’d also like to keep the ball and that was the pity for us, that we couldn’t keep the ball for a little bit longer and build off pressure – that’s how we can convert it into points.”
How successful the Bulls will be in these aspects will go a long way to determining their success on the scoreboard as well.