Pretoria – The Bulls are nearing the end of their pre-season preparations and will take a step closer to where they want to be against the Cheetahs in a warm-up clash on Saturday, according to head coach Frans Ludeke.
Ludeke made wholesale changes to the side that beat the Lions 38-32 in the inaugural Gauteng Rugby Cup at Orlando Stadium last week, with only fullback Jurgen Visser remaining in the starting line-up.
The reshuffle sees first team regulars like skipper Pierre Spies, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter and Bjorn Basson returning to the fold, making their first appearances of the season ahead of the start of the Super Rugby competition which kicks off later this month.
“Our preparations have been exactly the same as in the past. We had areas that we identified where we wanted to improve and be more accurate,” Ludeke said ahead of their final pre-season encounter in Polokwane.
“We made a few adjustments and that all has to happen in the pre-season. In the last two or three weeks especially we have arrived at where we want to be in terms of preparation. The players have reacted fantastically to that.
“We are looking forward to the season, everyone is waiting for the start, but it has been good for us to have these pre-season games to test where we are before starting the season as a group.”
Ludeke believed the Cheetahs would pose a formidable threat and expected the Bulls to be tested at set-pieces, after the Free State side rebounded from a loss to the Lions a fortnight ago, with a 27-26 win over the fancied Stormers in Bloemfontein last week.
“They played a lot better than when they played against the Lions. Suddenly their scrum was sorted out, their rolling maul movements were also effective on the day,” he said.
“They keep the ball, they play and they are positive. When they get onto the front foot, they can put you under a lot of pressure.
“We can also see they have a few new combinations, but they played really well against the Stormers last weekend.”
Meanwhile, Spies was looking forward to being back on the field with his team and believed the Bulls had become a unified outfit after the disappointment of last year's Super Rugby campaign, where the Pretoria outfit reached the playoffs, but were beaten by the Crusaders in the qualifier playoffs.
“It's the first game for a lot of us so it's important that we focus on what we want to achieve. We have to go out there and execute our plan,” Spies said.
“Our team is a year older and a bit more experienced. The players are also a bit more settled in their positions, as is the group.
“It's definitely going to make my job a bit easier, the chemistry in the team is very good.
“They guys are a lot more comfortable around each other and things are flowing easier than last year.”
Meanwhile, the Golden Lions, dropped from this year's Super Rugby series, host new boys the EP Kings at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon, while the Stormers face the Boland Cavaliers in Cape Town.
The Sharks were set to kick-off the weekend's friendly matches with a clash against the Leopards in Pietermaritzburg. – Sapa