Vodacom Bulls

BullsVodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke made three changes to his starting pack of forwards for Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby clash against the Lions at Ellis Park.

Jacques Engelbrecht moves from the bench to start at No 8, with Grant Hattingh moving to lock in place of Victor Matfield who is rested. In another rotational swop, Marcel van der Merwe will start at tight head, with Werner Kruger playing off the bench.

Wimpie van der Walt replaces Engelbrecht on the bench, where there is also a return for Louis Fouché. The flyhalf will replace Handré Pollard, who is captaining the Junior Springboks in New Zealand. William Small-Smith is also back after illness and replaces Ulrich Beyers on the bench.

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Special EditionSuper RugbyThe Cell C Sharks returned from their Australasian tour at the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby Log while the Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers continued their good home form this weekend.

The Durbanites beat the Blues for the 10th consecutive time, by 29-23, in Albany on Friday morning. They won 3 from 4 on tour Down Under, which is equal to their best tour ever in 2009, and bagged 13 Log points in Australasia, firming their grip of the top spot on the standings after 4 tough games abroad.

Later on Friday, the Vodacom Bulls were at their brutal best as they probably recorded their best win of the season when they dismantled the 2013 runners up, the Brumbies, by 44-23 at Loftus Versfeld. The score probably flattered the visitors as the side from Pretoria remained unbeaten at home this season.

On Saturday morning in Perth, the Lions fought very hard to win their final tour match, but ultimately came up short as they were beaten by 29-19 by the Force.

Round 15 came to an exciting end in Cape Town on Saturday evening when the DHL Stormers beat the Toyota Cheetahs by 33-0 in a rather one-sided match.

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William Small-SmithThe Vodacom Bulls will have William Small-Smith available again for selection ahead of their Vodacom Super Rugby clash against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday. The 22-year old midfielder was ruled out of last week’s selection due to a stomach ailment.

Jono Ross was cleared of concussion and Jurgen Visser suffered a contusion in last Friday night’s win over the Brumbies, but is ready to play as well. They will sit out the field session on Monday and will train Tuesday, team doctor Org Strauss confirmed.

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Special EditionSuper RugbyThe lowest mark for a Super Rugby Finals Series qualifier over recent years has been 53, meaning that this season one can mathematically assume in 2014 at least 45 points gives a team a chance of playing knockout rugby.

Remember 8 less points are on offer in 2014 with nothing awarded for a bye.

The Melbourne Rebels are now out of calculations, for while a potentially brilliant perfect 25 from 25 points in their closing run covers the rudimentary maths, they would need to rely on a perfect maelstrom of losing chaos at the top of the table.

The Blues, although 1oth and in a precarious position on the Log, have 5 games left, but from hereon in it is crunch time for them. They almost need a flawless run from here and a loss to the Sharks, will certainly put them out of the running on the weekend.

For the Vodacom Bulls, it becomes doubly difficult now, they only have 4 games left, compared to 5 by most of the teams above them in the pecking order. One more loss, and you can write them off. They need a near perfect run in their 4 games, earning at least 17 Log points from 4 games, so that means at least one bonus point try win and the rest all wins.

Evaluation in reverse order:

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Frans Ludeke

Frans Ludeke

BullsBrumbiesThe Bulls won’t have revenge on their minds when they face the Brumbies in a Super Rugby clash at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.

The Brumbies broke the Bulls hearts when they beat the men from Pretoria 26-23 in last year’s semi-final at Loftus, with centre Tevita Kuridrani’s late try sealing the win for the men from Canberra.

While it would be important to have a look at what cost them in that game, coach Frans Ludeke said revenge would not be on their minds.

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Flip van der Merwe

Flip van der Merwe

BullsRegular Vodacom Bulls captain, Flip van der Merwe, is back at the helm of the team to face the Brumbies in a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Pretoria on Friday. Van der Merwe missed three matches due to suspension and is one of three changes to the side that beat the DHL Stormers two weeks ago.

Van der Merwe replaces Paul Willemse in the number four jumper while Werner Kruger rotates as tight-head prop with Marcel van der Merwe. Jacques-Louis Potgieter swops the bench and the number ten jersey with Handrè Pollard in the only change at the back.

Wimpie van der Walt makes way for Willemse on the bench. Ulrich Beyers also comes onto the bench in place of William Small-Smith, who is ill.

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William Small-SmithPiet van ZylFlip van der MerweBullsWilliam Small-Smith will not train on Monday due to a stomach ailment, but both Piet van Zyl and Flip van der Merwe reported for training duty and will be considered for the Vodacom Bulls match against the Brumbies on Friday.

According to the Vodacom Bulls team doctor, Org Strauss, all of the squad are in good health and ready to take on the Australian conference leaders.

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Trevor NyakaneThe Vodacom Bulls may well add Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane to their ranks as their next acquisition when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Nyakane, who became a Springbok last season but was dropped because of disciplinary issues, is known to be on the target list of the Bulls as they look to strengthen their squad ahead of the 2015 season.

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BullsBye weekends can be a curse to teams with a bit of momentum, but perhaps the Bulls should be grateful for theirs in the next round of Super Rugby.

The optimistic view about an “off” week for Frans Ludeke’s charges, you see, is that it will refresh them for what shapes up as a pressure-cooker, make-or-break match against the Brumbies at Loftus on Friday 23 May.

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Victor MatfieldBullsThey may not be the same vintage as the 2009 and 2010 Vodacom Super Rugby champion team, but the Vodacom Bulls are steadily starting to believe in themselves – and that makes them very dangerous as the competition starts winding down to its business end.

But the Bulls know their real test was not against the struggling DHL Stormers last Saturday, but rather in a fortnight’s time when they face the Australian conference leaders, and the side that put them out of the semifinals last year – the Brumbies.

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Special EditionStormersSharksLionsCheetahsBullsThis is the last article in the 3-part series where we run the rule over team performances so far and take a look at the chances of teams as we enter the final stretch of the regular season.

We conclude with the South African Conference, who are positioned as the bottom performing country overall, with 4 teams in the bottom 6 at present.

SUMMARY: While the Sharks fly the SA flag and have established the 1st major break at the top of the table, now 5 points clear, only the Bulls have any chance of joining Jake White’s team in the knockout stage of the season.

The Lions’ promising start has been tarnished, the Cheetahs record season last year is a distant memory, while the Stormers haven’t been so far down the table since 1996.

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Schalk BurgerDHL Stormers captain Schalk Burger says he is happy to take the underdog tag with his team to Loftus for Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby derby against the Vodacom Bulls, but is not writing off the chances of his inexperienced side causing an upset.

The Stormers are going to Pretoria with a much changed match day squad following two separate waves of injuries that have decimated them this week. On Monday it was announced that the likes of regular skipper Jean de Villiers, loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff, wing Kobus van Wyk, reserve lock Jurie van Vuuren and possibly tighthead prop Frans Malherbe would be missing because of injury.

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Super RugbyThree wins and only one defeat against Australasian opposition meant the last round of Vodacom Super Rugby was the best weekend from a South African perspective since round two earlier this year.

However, two of the three wins in the second round were in local derbies. This weekend, only the Vodacom Bulls’ victory over the Toyota Cheetahs was an all-South African affair as the Cell C Sharks and the DHL Stormers clinched victories over Australasian opponents.

In fact, the Cell C Sharks broke a losing run of 13 matches in Australasia for the South African franchises (this includes the Toyota Cheetahs’ defeat in their 2013 Qualifier against the Brumbies in Canberra) when they beat the Rebels by 22-16 in Melbourne on Friday morning.

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BullsStormersAfter getting back to winning ways on Saturday when the Vodacom Bulls beat the Toyota Cheetahs at Loftus Versfld, by 26 / 21, the Bulls are keen to continue this trend when they meet the injury-decimated DHL Stormers on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld, at 19:10 SA Time.

A traditional North-South derby always makes for excitement and the Bulls will have to be at their best against a Stormers side which has seen some dramatic improvements in recent weeks.

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Handré PollardWilliam Small-SmithBullsVodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke tweaked his backline with a new midfield combination for their Vodacom Super Rugby match against the Toyota Cheetahs and changed his front row, but stuck with almost the same match 23 that came up short against the Force in Perth last weekend.

Ludeke included Junior World Cup winning players William Small-Smith and Handre Pollard in the starting team for the first time this season and also gave prop Marcel van der Merwe a first start for the match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

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Piet van ZylBullsPiet van Zyl will not be able to take on his former Toyota Cheetahs team mates at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday as the Vodacom Bulls scrumhalf still suffers from a knee injury picked up on the Australasian tour.

The player will miss another week of Vodacom Super Rugby action as he recovers from his MCL injury, Vodacom Bulls team doctor Org Strauss confirmed.

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Victor MatfieldBullsHe may not be as dynamic all over the park as in days gone by, but Bulls lock Victor Matfield remains the lineout king in Super Rugby.

The Springbok captained the Bulls in their final tour match against the Force in Perth last week after regular skipper Flip van der Merwe was suspended for punching.

Matfield did not succeed in spurring his team-mates to a first victory on tour, but one area in which they dominated, was at lineout time.

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Victor MatfieldJurgen VisserAkona NdunganeFrancois HougaardPaul WillemseBullsBongi MbonambiVodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke made five changes to his starting line-up to face the Force in Perth on Saturday, with suspension, rotation and injury forcing his hand.

Three changes are at the back.

Jurgen Visser has recovered from the foot injury that ruled him out of the Waratahs clash shortly before kick-off and slots in at fullback, where he replaces Ulrich Beyers. Francois Hougaard moves back to the base of the scrum following the knee-injury sustained by Piet van Zyl and a fit-again Akona Ndungane returns to his regular spot on the wing.

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Flip van der MerweBullsFlip van der Merwe has been suspended for 3 weeks, following a Judicial Hearing, following a punch on the weekend, against the Waratahs!

Hearing Details: Wednesday 23 April 2014 at 08:00 SA Time, 16:00 AEST, 18:00 NZ Time
Judicial Hearing Chairman: Adam Casselden
Player: Flip van der Merwe
Team: Bulls
Position: Lock
Date of Incident: 19 April 2014
Nature of Offence: Law 10.4 (a) Punching or Striking. A player must not strike an opponent with the fist or arm, including the elbow,shoulder, head or knee(s).
Elapsed time in match when incident occurred: 75th minute

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Piet van ZylBullsVodacom Bulls titness Report after Round 10:

Vodacom Bulls scrumhalf Piet van Zyl picked up a knee injury and will not play against the Western Force in Perth on Saturday, the last tour match of their 2014 overseas tour for the Pretoria team.

Van Zyl left the field against the Waratahs in Sydney last weekend and will be out of action for two weeks, Vodacom Bulls team doctor, Org Strauss, said on Monday.

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Flip van der MerweBullsVodacom Bulls lock Flip van der Merwe has been passed fit to face the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday and will lead the team for their third tour match to Australasia.

This will be the first of two matches the Vodacom Bulls will play in Australia as part of their Vodacom Super Rugby tour.

Van der Merwe got injured in last weekend’s bonus point loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin, but has recovered sufficiently from his arm injury to lead the team.

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Frans LudekeBullsVodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke admits he will be again looking for reasons why his side dominated the possession stakes against the Highlanders and didn’t get the reward.

The Bulls had more than enough ball in their Vodacom Super Rugby game on Friday but defensive lapses and a lack of execution cost them as they went down 27-20 in Dunedin.

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Deon StegmannBullsThe men from Pretoria, the Vodacom Bulls, started strong and seemed in control of proceedings against the Highlanders. With lock Victor Matfield leading from the front, they were comfortably winning their lineouts and also won key scrum battles more often than not. (Photo of the man sorely missed on the left – Deon Stegmann)

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