Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has never been big on playing mind games and yesterday at training revealed his hand for his team to play against the Western Force.
But even if it was some slight of hand the Bulls mentor was prepared to play before announcing his team today, never would he have conjured up the midfield that he will unleash against the Force.
Springbok centre Wynand Olivier will in all probability partner with on-loan Lions centre Lionel Mapoe as the latest and probably most exciting Bulls midfield in years after injuries forced Ludeke to change his starting XV.
It is Mapoe’s presence in the Bulls midfield that will certainly bring about a lot of expectation after he enjoyed two very fruitful seasons playing at No13 for the Lions which eventually led to a Springbok call up.
In his debut for the Bulls last week, Mapoe started on the wing in place of the injured veteran Akona Ndungane but with Ndungane back to full fitness and likely to take his rightful place on the right wing, Ludeke will be forced to move Mapoe to outside centre in place of the injured JJ Engelbrecht.
While Engelbrecht, Deon Stegmann and Dewald Potgieter’s injuries would have initially weakened the Bulls team, it has been the rapid return from injury of Ndungane and Jacques Potgieter that have instead strengthened them ahead of their last game at home before embarking on their overseas leg of the competition.
Mapoe remains the benefactor of the injuries at the Bulls but Ludeke will be pleased to have his most potent back three back together again with Ndungane, Bjorn Basson and Zane Kirchner still amongst the best in the competition.
At the same time the Bulls would have felt weaker without the experience of Dewald Potgieter and Stegmann but the fact that Ludeke can substitute that experience with the youthful exuberance and unpredictability of Arno Botha and the wild ways of Jacques Potgieter will do much in the evolving but structured game the Bulls have adopted in recent years.
Jacques Potgieter and Botha look set to play on either side of the scrum with Potgieter likely to start at No7 while Botha’s athletic ability will be put to use in keeping an eye on the first receiver from set phases.
Fortunately for the Bulls the remainder of the starting team is likely to stay the same with Werner Kruger given the green light to play after doubts over his ankle injury.
And Ludeke had no reason to hide his hand at yesterday afternoon’s training, a sign of a coach confident in the ability of his team to win so early in the competition and also happy to show off a midfield and starting line-up that many coaches would die to have. The Bulls long embraced the fact that injuries would happen during the course of the campaign but it was in building a strong and able squad that Ludeke could have already outwitted his peers.
“Injuries are always going to happen in this game but we told ourselves during the pre-season that we need to adjust and build a squad that can see us replace players without losing our strength,” said Ludeke. - The Star