Take cue from Potgieter, Bulls!

    2013-07-17 23:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Inevitably, stirring achievements in a losing team’s cause are forgotten rather more quickly than in victory.

    So in that respect you have to feel some sympathy for the herculean efforts last weekend of Jacques Potgieter, the Bulls’ blindside flank.

    Second viewing of the slightly untimely, comprehensive 30-13 Super Rugby defeat to the Stormers at Newlands, which restricted the Pretoria-based outfit to second-placed finish overall, only confirmed how the brawny character shone despite the result.

    Frankly, if more members of the Bulls pack – though acting captain, co-loose forward and namesake Dewald Potgieter was arguably another exemption from criticism – had shown the sort of fire Potgieter found in his belly, they might have run their arch-rivals much closer or actually won to eclipse the Chiefs to top spot.

    That the Bulls pack played a slightly worrying second fiddle in just about all areas, and to a Stormers eight missing some regulars like Tiaan Liebenberg, Andries Bekker, Frans Malherbe, Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen, was no fault of Potgieter’s.

    The 27-year-old threw himself into combat with enormous relish, making for an almighty scrap at No. 7 with another hard-as-nails customer, the Stormers’ emerging Rynhardt Elstadt.

    Potgieter was everywhere, making crunching, smothering tackles, generally covering a huge amount of ground for a fellow of 115kg and carrying the ball forcefully and without regard for his own physical preservation whenever the chance arose.

    He was also instrumental, although he might have seemed an unlikely source, in making some fast, urgent yards to crucially ankle tap the in-form home captain Jean de Villiers, who had flown through another midfield gap like a knife through butter and seemed a near-certainty to romp over beneath the posts at a time when the Stormers already commanded a significant lead in the first half.

    It was some retort from a player not universally warmed to when Heyneke Meyer gave him a trio of Springbok caps in 2012 – there was a feeling, and perhaps a rightful one, that South Africa was well-stocked enough in simultaneously skilful and strong loose forwards to bypass Potgieter’s rather unsubtle, bulldozing game.

    Indeed, the Port Elizabeth-born player hasn’t been able to crack a regular starting berth for the high-riding Bulls this year, a situation that has only changed more recently with unfortunate long-term injury setbacks to the likes of skipper Pierre Spies and promising 2013 rookie Bok Arno Botha.

    Both are players with rather more to offer in terms of pure athletic X-factor, but what you see is what you get with Potgieter, and that is also no bad thing in many respects.

    With their set-piece looking as questionable as it has been for a while – the lineout now labouring alongside the ho-hum scrum because of the absence of Spies and Juandre Kruger from it – the Bulls will badly want to retain their reputation for huge, knock-back physicality in general play, another way of trying to ensure that key tactical string-puller Morné Steyn is able to strut his stuff from a front-foot platform.

    In that regard Potgieter is one of their currently most able bodies for the task – the likelihood that rugged lock Flip van der Merwe will shrug off his groin strain suffered against the Stormers is also comforting for them -- and any carbon copy of his Newlands industry against, for instance, the Brumbies and Crusaders in the finals series of Super Rugby will be a shot in the arm for the Bulls’ quest for a fourth title.

    He is due to join the exodus from Loftus after this season’s competition, first with a stint in the Japanese league before apparently moving onward to the European scene.

    It seems the bearded, wild-haired marauder intends bowing out of the Bulls fold with a bang rather than a whimper...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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