Matfield back to rescue Bulls season
The Vodacom Bulls know their Vodacom Super Rugby season is on the line this weekend - and have called in veteran Victor Matfield to help them save it.
According to the supersport.com website, Matfield will return from injury and has resumed training in the nick of time and is likely to start this weekend when the Emirates Lions visit Loftus Versfeld in a crucial encounter for both sides.
The stark reality at the end of a long weekend is that the Bulls season is seriously hanging in the balance, with an uphill battle left if they have any hope of winning the South African conference.
Not only have the DHL Stormers put some daylight between them and the Pretoria side, but the Cape side has a much easier fixture list left, and the Lions are looming large for the Bulls this weekend.
With a conference race as close as the local one, the losses at Newlands on Saturday and a few weeks back at Emirates Airline Park have come back to haunt the Bulls, and while both have been extremely close, the difference between winning and losing has become the difference in the conference itself.
The Lions are also on a high at the moment and after their victory in Johannesburg, they will back themselves to do the double at Loftus this weekend, and if that happens, then the Bulls may well even struggle to make the playoffs given their current situation.
The Lions threat is a massive test of character for the Bulls this week, and while the loss to the Stormers has been a massive blow to the side’s hopes, they were the masters of their own demise at times.
And past that the tour looms large, with the Bulls needing an exceptional tour to ensure they have any chance left in this year’s competition. History has shown that the teams who sneak into the playoffs and have to travel during them hardly ever find success.
But first the Lions and Matfield’s return will be a massive boost for the side, who have missed him in the last three weeks of the competition.
Jan Serfontein’s injury woes will hopefully also be a thing of the past, as he withdrew again at the last minute before the Newlands clash and was replaced by Burger Odendaal for the game. It is clear the Bulls want Serfontein and rate him higher than Odendaal at the moment, so if he is fit he will play.
Another interesting selection will be that at outside centre, where William Small-Smith has added his name to the equation and should be considered as well. However with coach Frans Ludeke likely to keep his conservative outlook, Small-Smith may have to bide his time at Vodacom Cup level.
Ludeke has acknowledged the tour looms large on the horizon, but knows the Lions are a massive threat to the Bulls chances and losing this weekend could end their hopes of playing any part in the playoffs at all.
“We need to go and win on tour. The first thing we need to do is get back on the horse and win next week. We face the Lions and make sure we win that one. The tour will look after itself. We know it is vital and we have some crucial games on tour. We have a different finish than other years, we play away at the end but we’re looking forward to it. Next week is vital though,” Ludeke said.
The Lions also bring different threats, and will test the Bulls both on attack and defence, and the return of Matfield will be a key part of that.
The Bulls lineout was probably the best part of their game at Newlands and Matfield’s return will reunite his partnership with Flip van der Merwe in the engine room, giving the Bulls a significant attacking force in the lineouts.
But there are areas of the Bulls attack that needs to change. Their scrum was demolished in the first half at Newlands and was the source of most of their woe in the final result, while their attacking options need a lot more scrutiny when they had the upper hand over the Stormers.
Either way it is all up to them now. Matfield will inject new bravery into the side. The task is massive, but not insurmountable.
And the choice is theirs on how big a part they play in the rest of the season.