They’ve suffered two defeats, they’ve been told they’re using the wrong game plan and some have even gone so far as to suggest they’re clueless.
Yet, two days out from their Super Rugby meeting with the Lions at Loftus Versfeld, the Bulls have been installed as heavy favourites to win the game. And that by none other than Lions coach Johan Ackermann, whose team have started the competition with two wins – against the Cheetahs and Stormers.
It is the complete opposite to years gone by when the Bulls have generally been the team on top and the Lions the side in a must-win situation.
The Bulls have not lost three games in a row in the early stages of the competition since 2005 while victory for the Lions will give them top spot in the standings at the end of the weekend.
While Ackermann said there was pressure on both teams, he has made the Bulls favourites to take the Jukskei derby.
“It’s a home match for them and they’ve got 10 Boks in the ranks ... surely they must be the favourites,” he said yesterday, piling more pressure on Ludeke and his charges.
“We haven’t achieved anything yet. I’ve told the players that and they’re also aware of it. We’re only two games in.
“We need to continue working hard to earn any sort of bragging rights.
“There’s nothing (about the Lions) to write home about just yet.” But one can’t ignore the fact the Lions are a team full of confidence right now; the Bulls are still trying to find their best game.
“The youngsters have definitely become more confident after two rounds,” said Lions skipper Warren Whiteley. “But the wins and the fact we’re up against the Bulls hasn’t changed anything in how we’ve gone about our business this week. And the fact remains, the Bulls are a big threat ... if they’d capitalised on their opportunities in the first two games the results could have been very different.”
To bolster the Bulls, Ludeke has made some telling changes, the most significant being bringing Victor Matfield into the starting team. Ackermann says the Bok player’s recall hasn’t impacted their thinking at all. “We decided on our plans early in the week. We’re following the same process as each week, regardless of who gets picked and who doesn’t.”
As expected, there’s a change for the Lions in midfield where JW Jonker replaces the injured Alwyn Hollenbach (groin and knees) and at flank where Warwick Tecklenburg comes in for Derick Minnie (cheekbone).
Bulls: Jürgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Francois Hougaard, Grant Hattingh, Jacques du Plessis, Jono Ross, Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe (capt), Frik Kirsten, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Werner Kruger, Marcel van der Merwe, Paul Willemse, Jacques Engelbrecht, Piet van Zyl, Handré Pollard, Ulrich Beyers.
Lions: Chrysander Botha, Deon van Rensburg, JW Jonker, Stefan Watermeyer, Ruan Combrinck, Marnitz Boshoff, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (capt), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Dreyer, MB Lusaseni, Willie Britz, Ross Cronjé, Courtnall Skosan, Coenie van Wyk. - The Star