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Vodacom Blue BullsThe Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd on Friday expressed their sincere gratitude and thanks to a number of stalwarts who will part ways with the Vodacom Bulls at the completion of the 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament.

Barend van Graan, CEO of the BBC, confirmed the departures of Pierre Spies, Jacques du Plessis, Flip van der Merwe, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Victor Matfield, Akona Ndungane and Francois Hougaard to French and Japanese clubs and retirement.

Spies (via Japan) and Du Plessis will join French club Montpellier, Van der Merwe moves to Clermont-Avergne and Potgieter to Lyon. Matfield will retire after the Rugby World Cup and Ndungane hangs up his boots this weekend as his contract was only extended for this year’s Super Rugby competition.

Hougaard leaves for Japan later this year and depending on a number of factors, will make a call on whether to return to Loftus Versfeld, at a later stage.

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BullsVodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke made 4 changes to his starting team that will face the Toyota Cheetahs in a Vodacom Super Rugby clash at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The coach’s hand was forced through injury and the SARU rest agreement, which ruled all of Jan Serfontein, Handré Pollard, Deon Stegmann, Dean Greyling, Victor Matfield and Lappies Labuschagne out of contention for the final match of the tournament.

Matfield will be replaced by Grant Hattingh and Labuschagne by Arno Botha at flank, while Greyling’s place will be taken by Morné Mellett. Adriaan Strauss, who was rested last weekend against the Rebels, is back at hooker, with Callie Visagie moving to the bench.

Ludeke also called Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg and Roelof Smit into the squad again to cover for Deon Stegmann and Hattingh.

The backline remain unchanged from last week.

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Victor Matfield

Victor Matfield

Springbok lock Victor Matfield may have 1 eye on the Rugby World Cup, but he has made it clear he wants to coach the Vodacom Bulls at some stage.

With coach Frans Ludeke’s job coming under the spotlight at a Board of Directors’ meeting on Friday, Matfield’s role in the Bulls setup will also be under the microscope after another disappointing season where the Bulls missed out on the playoffs of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament.

There was a proposal put to the Board before the Bulls went on tour that Ludeke become Director of Rugby and that Matfield and 1 other take over the coaching role for 2016, but results on the tour have put a lot of pressure, with calls for change coming from fans and ex-Bulls legends like Naas Botha.

Matfield already runs the attack for the Bulls, and has a dual player-coaching role for the team at the moment, and has been signed to take over as coach after the Rugby World Cup later this year.

But Friday’s meeting could change all that, especially with the unhappiness that on the tour the Bulls dropped from 2nd overall and topping the South African conference to 9th and 3rd in the SA conference. Their losing streak overseas stretches to 11 games now and it is the 2nd consecutive season they missed out on the playoffs. On top of this the last time they won any trophy was in 2010.

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Lappies Labuschagne

Lappies Labuschagne

Lappies Labuschagne will be out of action for at least a month and will undergo surgery on his larynx on Thursday to repair damage to his vocal chords.

Labuschagne has been struggling since the Vodacom Bulls’ defeat against the Chiefs on tour, 3 weeks ago, but chose to continue playing to try and help the Bulls make the Super Rugby playoffs.

After that hope disappeared after their loss to the Melbourne Rebels last weekend, the Bulls flanker decided to follow medical advice and go under the knife.

According to team doctor Org Strauss, he will be out for at least a month as he recovers but should be ready to play in the ABSA Currie Cup series at the end of July.

The Bulls were further hit by bad news with the withdrawal of flanker Deon Stegmann with bruised ribs, ruling himself out of contention for the game this weekend against the Toyota Cheetahs and joining a number of stalwarts on the sidelines.

The Bulls will name their side on Thursday, but chances are it will be a relatively young and inexperienced team to face the Cheetahs, with coach Frans Ludeke resting several players.

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Jan Serfontein

Jan Serfontein

Vodacom Bulls midfielder Jan Serfontein has not recovered sufficiently from a knee strain and will miss his team’s last Vodacom Super Rugby clash of the season against the Toyota Cheetahs in Pretoria on Saturday.

Serfontein returned home from Australia two weeks ago due to the MCL strain and will not make it onto the field on Saturday, Vodacom Bulls team doctor Org Strauss confirmed.

Deon Stegmann, who missed the Rebels match due to bruised ribs, will be given till Thursday to prove his fitness, but JJ Engelbrecht (elbow), Burger Odendaal (hamstring), Jacques du Plessis (back) and Jesse Kriel (quad) were all back on the field on Tuesday.

Frans Ludeke

Frans Ludeke

Heyneke Meyer

Heyneke Meyer

Could Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer possibly return to the Vodacom Bulls after this year’s Rugby World Cup?

The South African Rugby Union (SARU) has not yet offered Meyer an extension of his contract beyond the current Rugby World Cup.

While talks are ongoing at SARU about Meyer’s future, it is understood the Vodacom Bulls would be happy to return him and his management team to Loftus Versfeld if he doesn’t continue as Springbok coach.

The future of current Bulls coach, Frans Ludeke, appears uncertain after the men from Pretoria again failed to reach the Super Rugby playoffs.

Ludeke has a contract with the Bulls until October 2016, but there are rumours he could be relieved of his coaching duties, while there is also talk of Ludeke being promoted to Director of Rugby.

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Francois Hougaard

Francois Hougaard

Both Francois Hougaard and Willie Le Roux have concluded deals with the same Japanes team, the Canon Eagles.

The club announced on Wednesday the pair had been signed for the coming season at the Japanese club, but both are set to return to play in Vodacom Super Rugby next season.

While Hougaard is still negotiating a return to Loftus – he has 3 offers from Europe, including English clubs Leceister Tigers and Exeter Chiefs – he will be a massive signing for the Japanese club with his versatility to play either at scrumhalf or wing.

The duo will be able to continue their Springbok partnership although the 2 foreigner rule in Japanese rugby may see both playing a lot less than they would in South Africa.

The Eagles have just said goodbye to their 2 foreign players – flanker Adam Thomson and Callum Bruce – and have signed the duo to replace them.

Hougaard told the club in typically public-relations friendly quotes he was happy to be joining their ranks.

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Adriaan Strauss

Adriaan Strauss

Handré Pollard

Handré Pollard

Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke made 7 changes to his starting team to face the Melbourne Rebels in a Super Rugby clash in Melbourne on Saturday. There are 3 changes in the backline that faced the Brumbies last weekend and 4 in the pack.

Jesse Kriel, Travis Ismaiel and Jacques-Louis Potgieter all move into starting positions off the bench, replacing Jurgen Visser, Bjorn Basson and Handré Pollard respectively. Visser and Basson will play off the bench, but Pollard will be rested for this clash.

Instead, Tian Schoeman, who joined the touring party on Tuesday, will be the back-up flyhalf on the bench.

In the pack, injured Deon Stegmann is replaced by Lappies Labuschagne, with Grant Hattingh moving to the bench to make way for Victor Matfield. The veteran lock will play in his 148th match at this level. In a straight swop, Jacques du Plessis starts at No 7 and Arno Botha moves to the bench.

Adriaan Strauss was only not considered due to the resting agreement with SARU, resulting in Callie Visagie running onto the field for his 50th match for the Vodacom Bulls in the No 2 jersey. Jaco Visagie will be on the bench.

According to Ludeke this is do or die for the team.

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Victor Matfield

Victor Matfield

Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke named Jurgen Visser at fullback in his team to play the Brumbies at GIO Stadium in Canberra on Friday. Visser will replace Jesse Kriel who has been named on the bench for this match, the 1st of 2 on Australian soil for the Vodacom Bulls in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition.

Visser joined the squad on Monday in place of injured Jan Serfontein and with Kriel recovering from a knee contusion, Ludeke opted for the 30 times capped fullback to start. This will be a 1st start at fullback for Visser since the opening week in February against the DHL Stormers.

Serfontein has been replaced by Burger Odendaal in the midfield.

In the pack, there is a return for Adriaan Strauss, who was rested last weekend, with Callie Visagie moving to the bench, as well as a 1st start on tour for Grant Hattingh, who replaces Victor Matfield at lock. Matfield is rested according to the SARU agreement.

Dean Greyling rotates with Trevor Nyakane at loosehead prop and Arno Botha swops places with Jacques du Plessis at the side of the scrum in the other change to the pack.

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Jan Serfontein

Jan Serfontein

Vodacom Bulls midfielder Jan Serfontein has been ruled out of the remainder of their tour due to grade 1 medial knee ligament injury. Serfontein has already made his way back to South Africa and will be replaced by Jurgen Visser for the Australian leg of the trip.

Jesse Kriel, who limped off on Friday against the Chiefs, has a contusion on his knee, but trained on Monday, Vodacom Bulls team doctor Org Strauss confirmed. Trevor Nyakane, who had a bruised hip, also trained.

Lappies Labuschagne though, will only train tomorrow, due to a trachea contusion.

Callie Visagie

Callie Visagie

Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke for the 1st time this season named Callie Visagie as starting hooker for his team to face the Chiefs in Rotorua on Friday. Visagie moves from the bench and replaces Adriaan Strauss for this Vodacom Super Rugby clash, with Jaco Visagie replacing his namesake on the bench. Jaco Visagie earned his 1st cap against the Reds earlier in the campaign.

Strauss, who has started in all the team’s matches this year, is rested according to the SARU agreement.

Ludeke also made 2 changes in his loose trio, with Jacques du Plessis and Deon Stegmann starting after playing off the bench against the Blues, and Arno Botha and Lappies Labuschagne this time tasked to provide spark as impact players.

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Rudy Paige

Rudy Paige

Francois Hougaard

Francois Hougaard

Vodacom Bulls halfback Rudy Paige and wing Francois Hougaard have been cleared to train with the team as they prepare for their Vodacom Super Rugby clash against the Chiefs in Rotorua on Saturday.

Paige had a knee ligament sprain and Hougaard a left quad contusion after their match against the Blues in Auckland, but will be available for the final tour match on New Zealand soil.

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Lappies Labuschagne

Lappies Labuschagne

Pierre Spies

Pierre Spies

Regular Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies is back at the helm and at No 8 for the Vodacom Bulls team to face the Blues in Auckland on Friday.

Spies played as a replacement in the team’s last Vodacom Super Rugby clash, against the Emirates Lions at Loftus Versfeld, and will replace Arno Botha at the back of the scrum. Botha will move to the side of the scrum, with Jacques du Plessis moving to the bench.

In the only change in the backline, Rudy Paige comes back at scrumhalf in place of injured Piet van Zyl.

There are 4 changes on the bench. Dean Greyling comes in for Morné Mellett and a fit-again Werner Kruger will replace Andrew Beerwinkel. It will be Kruger’s 1st appearance since the opening Round of the tournament when he injured his ankle against the DHL Stormers in February. Amongst the backs, Jacques-Louis Potgieter is fit again following a hamstring strain and replaces Tian Schoeman and Travis Ismaiel comes in for Jurgen Visser.

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Pieter Rossouw

Pieter Rossouw

The Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd on Monday confirmed reports that Vodacom Bulls assistant coach Pieter Rossouw’s contract terminates at the end of the current season.

Rossouw, who has served as assistant coach since 2008, will be pursuing business interests elsewhere.

Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said that Rossouw was of great value to the Vodacom Bulls and Vodacom Blue Bulls over many years, with a big number of players graduation to international stars under his tutelage.

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Rudy Paige

Rudy Paige

Burger Odendaal

Burger Odendaal

Apart from welcoming back Rudy Paige and Burger Odendaal, the Vodacom Bulls named Werner Kruger, Jacques-Louis Potgieter and Dean Greyling in their touring squad for the overseas leg of their Vodacom Super Rugby tour to Australasia.

Kruger has recovered from an ankle injury after several weeks on the sidelines, while Potgieter (hamstring) and Greyling (leg) was also declared fit along with Rudy Paige (knee) and Burger Odendaal (ankle).

With Piet van Zyl out for the rest of the season, Andre Warner will tour as 3rd scrumhalf, the Vodacom Blue Bulls and UP-Tuks’ scrumhalf’s 1st participation in the squad. Travis Ismaiel will also tour as the extra outside back.

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Flip van der Merwe

Flip van der Merwe

It has emerged that a contractual dispute with the South African Rugby Union (SARU) is the reason behind Vodacom Bulls lock Flip van der Merwe making himself unavailable for Springbok selection.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer earlier this week said Van der Merwe was “unavailable for international rugby at the moment”.

The reasons behind Van der Merwe’s unavailability were described as “personal”.

However, Van der Merwe and SARU are at loggerheads because the player feels he was done an injustice when Springbok contacts were awarded.

Unlike lock partners Eben Etzebeth, Victor Matfield and Pieter-Steph du Toit, Van der Merwe apparently did not receive a similar national contract.

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BullsHopefully recharging their batteries productively in a BYE Round ahead of it, the Vodacom Bulls are steeling themselves for their most definitive overseas tour of the Super Rugby conference era.

If they are going to be contending strongly for the playoffs this year, it always looked like being the phase that would make or break their challenge, given how unusually late in ordinary season it has been scheduled for them in 2015.

When the Bulls return from the 4-game itinerary abroad, there is only 1 further match before the finals series – at home to the Toyota Cheetahs.

Generally speaking, the ideal situation for South African sides is to tour roughly in the middle of the campaign: if you go too early, your season can be blown out of the water damagingly early.

And if you go notably late, it is a seriously tough time to try to get onto a consistently winning roll when you need that trend most – but that is the very challenge facing Frans Ludeke’s charges this time as the Blues, Chiefs, Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels lie in wait for them in that order.

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Piet van Zyl

Piet van Zyl

Vodacom Bulls scrumhalf Piet van Zyl has been ruled out of rugby for the remainder of the season after he sustained a knee injury in last weekend’s win over the Emirates Lions at Loftus Versfeld.

Van Zyl ruptured his ACL in his left knee, Vodacom Bulls team doctor Org Strauss confirmed on Monday.

Dean Greyling, who was injured in a vehicle accident last week, picked up a hematoma on his right leg and will be back on the training field on 18 May.

Midfielder Burger Odendaal is also not training this week due to an ankle injury picked up in the match, but will be ready to play on 11 May.

Next Monday is also the date being pencilled in for Rudy Paige to return to the field, following his knee rehab.

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Xander Janse van Rensburg

Xander Janse van Rensburg

Reports of a mass exodus from the Vodacom Bulls at the end of the season have been rubbished by the franchise.

According to weekend reports a host of Bulls – which include Pierre Spies, Francois Hougaard, Deon Stegmann, Akona Ndungane and JJ Engelbrecht – will head to Japan after the conclusion of the Super Rugby season.

It was billed as the “biggest exodus” since 2013 – when the Bulls lost 20-odd frontline players, including the likes of Juandré Kruger, Wynand Olivier, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Zane Kirchner, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dewald Potgieter and Jacques­ Potgieter.

However, Xander Janse van Rensburg, the High Performance Manager at the Blue Bulls Company, said that the facts of the reports are far removed from the truth.

“JJ and Grant have Japan clauses in their contracts,” Janse van Rensburg said, adding that the duo will head to Japan after the Super Rugby season, missing the Currie Cup competition, and will then return for Super Rugby 2016.

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DHL StormersBased on their last 3 performances, it may seem foolhardy to some to suggest the DHL Stormers retain the inside lane for the SA Conference honours in Super Rugby this year.

Certainly if you were a non-partisan observer watching their unconvincing, tense and sparkle-lacking victories over the Western Force and Vodacom Bulls, and then Saturday’s extension of a ballooning Bloemfontein bogey as an under-strength Cheetahs outfit put a nasty spanner in their works, placing money on their domestic superiority come the end of ordinary season might seem a risky business indeed.

Yet the Capetonians, now bumped back into 2nd spot in the South African Conference, as the Bulls earned a full house of Log Points from a high-quality home derby triumph over the Lions in Saturday night’s main feature, probably remain the best-placed team in terms of remaining itinerary demands to end up on top.

They have an immediate chance next weekend anyway to recapture the lead in a yo-yo tussle as they entertain Australian pace-setters the Brumbies at Newlands, whereas the Bulls slowly muster their energy for their overseas tour via a BYE.

The Loftus-based side currently have a 4-Point lead over their great southern rivals after 11 matches each and 5 to go ahead of the finals series phase.

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BullsThe Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd on Thursday confirmed that 3 players, Dean Greyling, Basil Short and Hencus van Wyk, were withdrawn from this weekend’s matches for the Vodacom Bulls and Vodacom Blue Bulls after suffering minor injuries in a car crash on Wednesday.

Greyling (knee) and Van Wyk (scrape wounds) were due to play for the Vodacom Bulls against the Emirates Lions and Short (neck) for the Vodacom Blue Bulls against the Limpopo Blue Bulls on Saturday.

They will be replaced by Morné Mellett, Dayan van der Westhuizen and Nqoba Mxoli respectively.

According to Xander Janse van Rensburg, High Performance Manager of the Blue Bulls Company, the trio were returning home from a quick hunting trip just outside Pretoria when their vehicle overturned.

“We are grateful that they did not sustain any serious injuries. Dean injured his knee, Hencus suffered some burns and Basil injured his neck, which resulted in him spending the night in hospital for observation. We wish them a speedy recovery.”

Greyling and Van Wyk is still due to travel with the Bulls on their overseas leg of the Vodacom Super Rugby competition, departing Sunday.

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Victor Matfield

Victor Matfield

The Vodacom Bulls, fresh off a narrow loss to the DHL Stormers this past weekend, next face the ever-improving Emirates Lions, at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday in the last Super Rugby match of the weekend.

It appears as though regular captain Pierre Spies is under the weather and will therefor sit out of the clash, with Victor Matfield back from Springbok rest and injury recovery set to take over the captaince helm for the vital match.

Meanwhile head coach Frans Ludeke is still moaning and groaning about the difficult laws and interpreations of those laws by the Super Rugby Referees.

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Deon Stegmann

Deon Stegmann

Dean Greyling

Dean Greyling

The Vodacom Bulls, need a complete rethink of their game approach and selection criteria, after a loss on the weekend against the DHL Stormers once again exposed why the Bulls will keep struggling.

The answer is simple… scrum penalties are destrying Bulls chances left, right and centre – and 1 prop in particular, Dean Greyling, cost the Bulls the difference between a win and a loss on the weekend.

No less than 9 easy penalty points can directly be ascribed to Dean Greyling’s inability to scrum correctly and legally. It is not a new thing either, he has picked up a plethera of scrum penalties in the last number of seasons and his general scrumming technique at loosehead prop has always been severely flawed. He is simply put, a scrumming liability, and is exploited at scrum time week after week by every Tom, Dick and Harry who plays against him!

Dean picked up 4 crucial scrum penalties on the weekend, but Marcel van der Merwe also picked up an additional 3 scrum penalties. That means 7 scrum penallties, which were either put into points against the Bulls or which robbed them of valuable possession and territory.

In anybody’s book, bar maybe in the crumpled “Book of Fools & Favourites” of Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, it is seen as a HUGE problem!

Things looked radically better in the 2nd half, when Morné Mellett was at loosehead prop and Trevor Nyakane at tighthead prop.

In addition to the clear prop and scrumming conundrum at the Bulls, one needs to start questioning the validity of continuing with Deon Stegmann at openside flank, as he is also a huge penalty offender! When Lappies Labuschagne replaced Stegmann at openside flank and Arno Botha replaced Jacques du Plessis at blindside flank, the Bulls suddenly entered their most productive and least penalized period of the match and the ground ball and breakdown situation control swung nicely in favour of the Bulls, so much so that the Bulls effectively ‘WON’ the 2nd half battle on the scoreboard, by 10 points to 3 and coming within a whisker of stealing the honours at the end of the game.

If these basic and fundamental aspects are not fixed, and immediately so, one can already start writing “Also-Runs 2015” on the shirt of every Bulls player and on every Bulls supporter’s jersey, alongside that tag which is already emblazened there for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014!

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Piet van Zyl

Piet van Zyl

Jan Serfontein

Jan Serfontein

Springbok halfback Piet van Zyl will earn a 3rd start for the Vodacom Bulls on Saturday when the Pretoria franchise play the DHL Stormers in Cape Town in a crucial Vodacom Super Rugby clash.

Van Zyl, who started against the coastal side in the season’s opener in February, comes in for injured Rudy Paige, while coach Frans Ludeke added another Springbok, midfielder Jan Serfontein, to his starting team at DHL Newlands.

The incumbent Springbok centre is fit again after a hip flexor injury and will start in place of Burger Odendaal, who deputised for Serfontein the last 4 Rounds.

The rest of the match day squad is the same one which conquered the Cell C Sharks in Durban last weekend, bar Akona Ndungane, who will take up Van Zyl’s spot on the bench.

The centurion winger will make a 1st appearance in this year’s competition if called into action from the bench. He earned his last and 108th cap in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition in the final pool match of the 2014 competition against the same opponent and at the same venue.

Ludeke is well aware of the massive challenge that awaits his side against the Stormers, who are just 2 points behind the Vodacom Bulls on the Combined Log and South African Conference Points Log.

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Super RugbyThe DHL Stormers finished their Australasian tour with a 2nd win while the Vodacom Bulls consolidated their position at the Top of the South African Conference as Vodacom Super Rugby 2015 entered the 2nd half of the season.

However, the Toyota Cheetahs and Cell C Sharks both lost at home as the teams from Pretoria and Cape Town opened up a bit of a gap in the local conference and the Vodacom Bulls moved up to 2nd on the overall log.

The DHL Stormers were made to work hard for a scrappy win in Perth on Saturday afternoon as they defeated the struggling Western Force by 13 / 6, the only 5-pointer of the encounter a Penalty Try to the visitors after yet another superb scrum. The win concluded their best Australasian tour in 3 years.

Back home, the Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks delivered a typically hard local derby in Durban with the 3-time champions from Pretoria ultimately winning by 17 / 10, with each team scoring a solitary try.

The Toyota Cheetahs unfortunately could not build on their good win in Perth last weekend when they were beaten by 18 / 17 by the Reds in Bloemfontein.

Down Under, the defending champions – the Waratahs and the Chiefs recorded impressive victories in Wellington and Christchurch respectively.

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Rudy Paige

Rudy Paige

Vodacom Bulls halfbacks Rudy Paige and Jacques-Louis Potgieter will not be considered for Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby match against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town due to injury.

Paige has a grade 1 medial ligament tear and will be out of action for at least 2 weeks, whilst Potgieter have a grade 1 hamstring tear and will be ready to return to action on 4 May, team doctor Org Strauss confirmed on Monday.

Burger Odendaal (hamstring), Bjorn Basson (knee), Flip van der Merwe (knee) and Arno van Wyk (bronchitis) sat out in training on Monday, with Odendaal only returning Thursday.

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DHL StormersBullsThe Bulls may hold a 2-point lead over the Stormers at the Top of the South African conference, but probably still need victory more than their hosts do in Saturday’s spicy Super Rugby derby at Newlands (19:10 SA Time).

Put it this way: if the Stormers repeat their 1st-round triumph at Loftus (29 / 17 then) they will become extremely firm favourites to win the conference.

As things stand, the Capetonians have 7 ordinary-season matches remaining, with 5 of them at home and only 2 away, whereas for the Bulls it is exactly the other way around – 2 at home and 5 away, including the formidable 4-game tour abroad.

So even if the Stormers lose to the old enemy on Saturday, they would still probably fancy their chances of leapfrogging the Loftus-based outfit at a later stage of the run-in.

Bear in mind that last season the Bulls failed to win a single fixture overseas, so they may require at least 2 this time if they are to thwart the Stormers’ own quest to end the local standings atop the pile.

At least 2 of the Australasian challenges facing the Bulls pretty soon will come from teams similarly pressing hard to make the playoff cut, in the form of the Chiefs and Brumbies (the other games will be against the Blues and Melbourne Rebels).

So it doesn’t take Einstein to work out that the Stormers’ remaining schedule – their own overseas trip now completed with a tidy enough haul of 10 points from a possible 20 – is by some way the more favourable.

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