Bulls wary of Force's SA factor
The Force may be singing the eulogies of Victor Matfield, but they have a few players who are causing ripples of trepidation in the Bulls camp.
The Western Force may be singing the eulogies of Victor Matfield, but they have a few players who are causing ripples of trepidation in the Bulls camp.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, speaking in a teleconference call ahead of his team's Round 11 Super Rugby showdown with the Force in Perth on Saturday, described their opponents as an Australian side that plays a lot like a South African team.
He spoke of their good set pieces, a strong kicking game and the fact that they maul very effectively.
"The only difference is that they keep the ball well, especially at home," Ludeke said in reference to the Force's adoptive style.
Asked about the South African influence - given that this weekend they will again have four SA players in the matchday squad - the Bulls mentor said it will be a "huge challenge".
"Obviously they have Wilhelm Steenkamp, you can definitely see his influence in the line-outs," Ludeke said of the former Bulls lock who plays off the bench this week.
"A lot of the things they do are familiar to us - you can see they have picked up a lot from the South African players.
"It is a credit to their coaching staff that they recruited players from South Africa who are quality players."
The Bulls admitted that after having lost all their matches on tour so far, this last outing in Australasia is a "vital" game.
And the Force acknowledged that the desperation in the Bulls' ranks will make them extremely dangerous - even without regular captain Flip van der Merwe, who has been banned for three weeks after being found guilty of punching an opponent.
And it is because Matfield has been named skipper in Van der Merwe's absence that the Force are so anxious.
"At the age of 36 to be playing at this level, it's unbelievable," said Sam Wykes, who was named to start ahead of Steenkamp.
"Any Bulls team that has him leading them is going to grow in confidence every time.
"Hearing a speech from him before the game has got to be pretty amazing.
"Some of the things he's done in games, like chip and chases and scoring at Test match level, is special.
"After the game I'll still be in awe shaking his hand saying 'It was a privilege to play against you'."
Wykes admitted the Force had leaned heavily on the former Bulls lock, Steenkamp, this week - especially in their efforts to interpret the Bulls' line-out calls.
"He's definitely given a bit of insight as to how they play," Wykes said.
"I haven't really been learning any Afrikaans, so I'll just leave it to him."
Other South Africans that could help the Force tap into the Bulls psyche are centre Marcel Brache, flyhalf Sias Ebersohn and loose forward replacement Brynard Stander.