Key calls that changed Bulls' season

Thu, 27 Mar 2014 09:08
Large jacques louis potgieter bul Large deon stegmann   victor matf Large jacques louis potgieter bul

They were derided and the butt of many jokes, but they have turned out to be two inspired selection changes.

They were derided and the butt of many jokes, but they have turned out to be two inspired selection changes.

World Cup-winning Springbok Victor Matfield had to endure a lot of criticism for his decision to accept an offer to make a comeback, after two years in retirement, at age 36. However, those jibes have now turned into a chorus of praise for the record-setting lock.

Flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, at 29 several years the Bok's junior, may not have been in the spotlight as much, but he did not escape the baiters entirely. And he also silenced those hecklers.

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, speaking to this website ahead of their Round Seven Super Rugby showdown with the defending champion Chiefs in Pretoria on Saturday, pointed to their ability to make good on-field calls as the reason for their success..

"Those [two] are seasoned players with plenty of experience," Ludeke said, when asked about the lock and flyhalf's ability to stay calm and read a game.

"Their ability to make crucial decisions, on the field, is what gives direction to those around them.

"The leadership they provide is crucial. Even when [now injured captain] Flip [van der Merwe] was there, with the support of Victor [Matfield] the right calls were made.

"Victor and Pottie [Potgieter] have given the group a major boost," the Bulls coach added.

In the first two rounds, when the Bulls looked decidedly off the pace, they lost to the Sharks (16-31) and Cheetahs (9-15).

However, since the introduction of the duo to the starting XV, against the Lions in week three, the Bulls have gone on a three-match wining streak - beating the Lions (25-17), the Blues (38-22) and the Sharks (23-19 in the return fixture).

"The other important aspect is that they lead by with the manner they play," Ludeke said, when asked about the ability of the two veteran to keep calm when others appear on the verge of buckling under pressure.

"They give direction [to other players] with their own games," the coach said, adding: "They have great communication skills.

"When they take the lead like that it gives the rest of the team energy.

"In the line-outs Victor makes a big impact and Jacques-Louis [Potgieter] with his tactical appreciation and how he controls the game, to go along with his goal-kicking and the other aspects of his game, is what gets the team going."

It should not surprise pundits that Matfield and Potgieter have the ability to cope with the pressure - given that Matfield has over 250 first class matches to his credit (including a record 110 Tests), while Potgieter is just short of the double century mark in first class rugby.

While Matfield - apart from briefs stints with Griquas, the Cats and Toulon in France - has been mostly with the Bulls, Potgieter has been a real traveller. He played for the Blue Bulls, Bulls, Cheetahs, Free State Cheetahs, Griffons, Bulls and Blue Bulls (again), Sharks and Natal Sharks, Bayonne and Dax, before returning to Pretoria.

But the former Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool product looks like he has never left Pretoria.

The other key aspect going into Saturday's encounter with the Chiefs is that there has been some continuity in selection - the return of veteran wing Akona Ndungane, from compassionate leave after the death of his father, bringing some additional experience.

Ludeke admitted that retaining the virtually unchanged helps a lot in terms of combinations and rhythm.

And believing in what they were doing, while trusting each other, also helped them turn things around after the defeats in the opening weeks.

"We knew we were doing the right stuff, we just didn't get the results from the first two matches," Ludeke told this website.

"The [weather] conditions limited us in the way we wanted to attack," he said, adding: "We also needed a game or two to settle down as a group - with a number of new players coming in this season."

He admitted they were a "bit fortunate" in last week's game against the Sharks (a 23-19 win in Pretoria), which Ludeke felt could have turned out differently in the last few minutes.

"That is why it was such a special result, because we managed to shut them out and we got the reward for the hard work [by the players] on the day.

"However, we know there is another big game waiting for us [against the Chiefs at Loftus Versfeld] this coming weekend."

By Jan de Koning

There are currently no matches being played
FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Fri, 06 May 2016
Crusaders v Reds 07h35 Christchurch
Brumbies v Bulls 09h40 Canberra
Griffons v Eagles 15h00 Welkom
EP Kings v Blue Bulls 16h00 Port Elizabeth
Sat, 07 May 2016
Sunwolves v Force 05h15 Tokyo
Chiefs v Highlanders 07h35 Hamilton
Waratahs v Cheetahs 09h40 Sydney
Leopards v Boland 12h30 Potchefstroom
Griquas v Border 13h00 Kimberley
Sharks v Hurricanes 13h00 Durban
Pumas v Namibia 13h00 Mpumalanga
Golden Lions v Free State Cheetahs 13h00 Randburg
Wasps v London Irish 14h30 Ricoh Arena
Worcester Warriors v Saracens 14h30 Sixways
Bath v Leicester Tigers 14h30 Recreation Ground
Gloucester v Northampton Saints 14h30 Kingsholm
Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs 14h30 Twickenham
Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks 14h30 Kingston Park
Zebre v Dragons 15h00 Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi
Munster v Scarlets 15h00 Thomond Park
Ospreys v Ulster 15h00 Liberty Stadium
Connacht v Glasgow Warriors 15h00 Sportsground
Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues 15h00 BT Murrayfield
Leinster v Treviso 15h00 RDS
Kings v Blues 15h05 Port Elizabeth
Sharks v Western Province 15h30 Durban
SUPER RUGBY
MORE LOGS
Pool AU
Team P W D L Pts
Rebels 9 5 0 4 23
Brumbies 9 5 0 4 21
Waratahs 8 4 0 4 21
Reds 9 2 1 6 12
Force 9 1 0 8 6
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Chiefs 9 8 0 1 37
Crusaders 8 7 0 1 32
Hurricanes 9 6 0 3 31
Highlanders 9 6 0 3 28
Blues 8 4 1 3 20
Pool SA1
Team P W D L Pts
Stormers 9 6 0 3 29
Bulls 8 6 1 1 28
Cheetahs 9 2 0 7 12
Sunwolves 8 1 0 7 7
Pool SA2
Team P W D L Pts
Lions 9 6 0 3 27
Sharks 9 4 1 4 23
Jaguares 8 1 0 7 7
Kings 7 1 0 6 4