Pretoria - Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has a tough choice ahead when he decides on his loose trio combination for Saturday’s Super Rugby showdown with the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld, the supersport.com website reports.
The return to fitness of veteran Bok Pierre Spies, along with fellow Bok Arno Botha has made the choices a bit more spicy for Ludeke as he looks for the right mix going into the first game of what promises to be a tough season.
Not only does the coach have these two to choose from, but also has new acquisition Lappies Labuschagne, Currie Cup captain Deon Stegmann and Under-20 rising star Hanro Liebenberg that will vie for the three spots on offer this weekend.
Spies will lead the team into battle, but that leaves an interesting choice for Ludeke - whether to go with the traditional mix or play two fetchers against a very good Stormers team.
Labuschagne has focused mainly on moving to openside in the pre-season games and has worked well in tandem with Stegmann, hinting that the coach may have found favour with this selection and is willing to risk it against the Stormers this weekend.
If this happens, it means that there will be no place in the starting line-up for Botha, whose pedigree is far too good to ignore.
The emergence of Liebenberg, who made an indelible impression in the pre-season games, will also cause some thought when the selection meeting gets going, as Ludeke is known to favour a big, hard running No 8.
The coach wasn’t giving too much away when he was quizzed on his selections, but it is likely the Bulls may stick to the same combination that looked good pre-season.
“You need quality players there and we need every one of our loose forwards,” Ludeke said.
“We’re definitely looking at a rotation system for our players and we will go with our best combination this weekend. There aren’t likely to be many surprises, as you saw in the pre-season games. The fact that Arno and Pierre are both fit and a guy like Hanro came through well in the pre-season games makes for good competition among the players.
“We have a lot of players there now that are in form, we’ve got good depth.”
The rest of the pack may be a fait accompli, with Victor Matfield likely to slot into the No 5 spot, while Jacques du Plessis will continue his transformation to No 4. The front row, without both Marcel van der Merwe and Dean Greyling looks a bit thin, but will have Springbok Trevor Nyakane scrumming alongside his former Free State team-mate Adriaan Strauss, with Werner Kruger likely to slot in at tighthead.
Morne Mellett had a good showing against Saracens and that may well see him get onto the bench.
Ludeke said the team is excited to get to this point and can’t wait for the season to kick off.
“We’ve worked hard in the pre-season to get to this point and we’re now at the start of the competition,” he added.
“We’re at home this weekend, and we’ve had a great pre-season in terms of results. We know it will be a battle up front again, it’s always a battle for possession of the ball.
The set phases will be massive, as well as the battle to get momentum on the gain line. We’re looking forward to it. We’ve worked hard and we believe in what we are doing."
The Bulls are under pressure to perform this year after a poor 2014 season.