Pretoria – After a stuttering start to their 2014 Super Rugby campaign, the Bulls will be looking for consistency when they face the Blues in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Bulls won their first match of the competition against the Lions in Pretoria over the weekend after two consecutive losses.
“We are still chasing the perfect game, so the Blues will be a different challenge brought to us. They are a lot more technical than they were before,” Bulls captain Flip van der Merwe said in Pretoria on Wednesday.
“We have to get another win before our bye weekend Ä it is another home game and it is a must win.”
The Light Blues have been buoyed by the return of open-side flanker Deon Stegmann, who is a terrier at the breakdown area.
Stegmann makes a return after suffering a groin strain while eighthman Grant Hattingh drops out of the side with an injury and Jono Ross moves from the side of the scrum to the back.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said Stegmann would bring a different dimension to the side, particularly in establishing turnovers.
“Steggies is a specialised opensider and any team will acknowledge that at the breakdown he is a vital guy on defence who can turn ball over,” Ludeke said.
“If you have a player with that ability, that is where you can force some turnovers and on attack secure your own ball.
“These days opensiders also get to carry the ball as well and the last two seasons Steggies also put a marker down in that area.”
In the only other change to the run-on side, Werner Kruger comes into the tighthead position for Frik Kirsten, who is suffering from a sore back.
Meanwhile, Bulls winger Akona Ndungane will make his 100th appearance for the Pretoria-franchise when he takes to the field on Saturday.
He made his Super Rugby debut way back in 2005 against the Cats and earned his 50th cap for the Bulls in 2009, playing against the Reds in Pretoria.
Van der Merwe and Ludeke paid tribute to the Bulls stalwart for his influence, not only as senior player but also as key member of their leadership corps.
Despite breaking the same leg twice in a period of six months, four years ago, Ndungane has managed to get back to full fitness and retain his place in the side.
“Akona is a fighter. His leadership in the team is of massive importance, as is the calmness he brings and speaks on the field,” Van der Merwe said.
“He is very disciplined in what he does and to recover from two injuries like that and still play 100 Super Rugby games speaks volumes of the guy.”
The Blues are fresh off a convincing 35-24 victory over the Crusaders in Auckland and Ludeke said the New Zealand side would pose a difficult challenge to his charges.
“We know what the Blues will bring this weekend. They are a quality side full of international players,” Ludeke said.
“What we've seen in the first couple of games they are a team that can move the ball around with a lot of steppers. They like to play a retention type of game with speed at the breakdown and they keep the ball alive.
“There are a lot of teams in South Africa that play like that and the challenge will be on defence over the weekend.”
Bulls teams: Jurgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Francois Hougaard, Jono Ross, Jacques du Plessis, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe (captain), Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling.
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Morné Mellett, Marcel van der Merwe, Paul Willemse, Jacques Engelbrecht, Piet van Zyl, Handré Pollard, Ulrich Beyers. – Sapa