Bulls have the right 'core'
Bulls have the right 'core'SHARE
The Bulls may have the highest player turnover of all the franchises, but coach Frans Ludeke believes he still has the core of a successful team.
Not even taking into consideration those veterans that departed in 2012, the Bulls have lost the services of players like Chiliboy Ralepelle (to Toulouse), Willie Wepener (to Lions), Juandré Kruger (to Racing Métro), Wilhelm Steenkamp (to the Western Force), Dewald Potgieter (to Yamaha Júbilo), Jacques Potgieter (to the Waratahs), Jean Cook (to the Cheetahs), Jano Vermaak (to Toulouse), Morné Steyn (to Stade Français), Wynand Olivier (to Montpellier), Francois Venter (to the Cheetahs), Lionel Mapoe (returned to the Lions) and Zane Kirchner (to Leinster).
On a very small flipside there is the hype about the possible return of Victor Matfield, even though that has yet to be formally confirmed and is a taboo subject in Pretoria.
For most teams the loss of so many senior players would reduce them to rubble.
Yet, Ludeke is adamant they have a "strong core" that will ensure they are not only competitive in 2014, but can actually challenge for overall honours.
"[There are] players who have come through the system and can help mentor [the new and young players]," Ludeke told this website when asked about the high turnover.
"The guys who have come in, those from the Kings and the youngsters, have stepped into the system."
He said that by focussing on the small details, to ensure they are accurate in terms of the execution of their game plan, it makes it easier for new players to step in without weakening the team.
"We feel the core of decision-makers are still here [at Loftus Versfeld]," Ludeke told this website.
"There are many talented young players here, who are getting their chance now.
"At any team you find players who move on and those who left [the Bulls] did so with our blessings.
"The next generation – who may be young players – will now get the same backing [as the senior players who left]."
The Bulls coach said that while it may take a game or two, they are confident all the youngsters will all come through.
Another pleasing aspect for Ludeke is the return from injury by a large number of key players.
"We are still managing a few guys," the told this website, adding: "However, the real positive is that guys like Pierre [Spies], Arno [Botha], Steggies [Deon Stegmann], Hougies [Francois Hougaard], Louis Fouché, Callie Visagie and Morné Mellett are all fighting fit.
"We had a bunch of players who were injured and underwent surgery [last year], but they are back and it is looking good."
He said none of his frontline players are on the 'doubtful' list for the start of the season – when they take on the Sharks on February 15.
"They have taken part in pre-season [training] and we are very happy with our progress in that regard."
Ludeke said that after "good progress" in November – where they worked on areas that they identified during the Super Rugby and Currie Cup seasons last year – they are looking forward to their pre-season outings at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane in February 1.
The Bulls play with two teams – one taking on the Lions' Vodacom Cup team in a curtain raiser, with the main game being between the Bulls and Stormers.
"We focussed on aspects like the scrum, ball retention at the breakdown and decision-making," the coach said about the team's pre-season work.
"We also worked on our structure on defence and attack.
"We've had two solid weeks since we came back in January."
By Jan de Koning