Bulls and Springbok winger Akona Ndungane will miss the opening game against the Stormers on Friday due to an ankle injury. Photo by: Lee Warren

This was meant to be the perfect week for the Bulls in their build up to their highly anticipated opening match of this year’s Super Rugby campaign against the old enemy from the Cape, the Stormers.

Instead some of the optimism and momentum gathered in the past few weeks as the Bulls wrapped up their pre-season activities was dashed yesterday with news that Springboks Akona Ndungane (ankle), Jacques Potgieter (groin) and Dean Greyling (ankle) won’t be available for selection and will certainly miss the game against the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on Friday evening. While Greyling was expected to miss out on the first two to three weeks of Super Rugby along with Wilhelm Steenkamp and Marcel van der Merwe, it is the injuries to Ndungane and Potgieter yesterday that would have somewhat disrupted the Bulls plans for Friday evening.

“Akona and Jacques have not recovered from their niggling injuries and it is safer to leave them out of the game against the Stormers. They should both be fit and available next week,” said Bulls doctor Org Strauss yesterday.

Further hampering the Bulls preparations would have been the constant whispers and speculation on whether Springbok scrumhalf Francois Hougaard will be available after reports over the weekend linking Hougaard with the murder case involving Olympic and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius.

The Bulls, however, refuted claims that Hougaard would not be playing and confirmed that the star scrumhalf would be starting against the Stormers and expected to continue with his early season form that saw him stand head and shoulder s above any player in the Bulls pre-season warm-up match against the Cheetahs two weeks ago.

But it is the absence of Ndungane and Potgieter that would have kept Bulls coach Frans Ludeke up for most of last night with the duo’s replacements needing to quickly come up to speed ahead of the Stormers clash. Ludeke will likely hand Lionel Mapoe his first Bulls start on the wing in place of Ndungane while Arno Botha seems to be ahead of Springbok flank Deon Stegmann in the race for Potgieter’s number seven jumper. Springbok hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle did not train with the team yesterday due to illness but he will be fit to play and will in all likelihood start at number two alongside Werner Kruger and Dawie Steyn while Juandre Kruger will partner up with Flip van der Merwe in the second row.

As was the case last season Pierre Spies will lead the side and will be in good company in the loose trio with Dewald Potgieter and Botha. Hougaard is expected to start in his preferred position at scrumhalf with Morne Steyn at flyhalf while Ludeke will be hoping for more from his centre combination of Wynand Olivier and JJ Engelbrecht.

Bjorn Basson and Mapoe will be on the wings while the ever reliable Zane Kirchner will be tasked with marshalling the Bulls attacks from the back. - Pretoria News