Victor Matfield moving to the bench and two new starting props were the only changes to the Bulls team coach Frans Ludeke announced on Thursday for their SuperRugby match against the Western Force at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Matfield will be replaced in the number five jersey by Grant Hattingh, while Springboks Marcel van der Merwe and Dean Greyling will be the starting props as Ludeke gives his 37-year-old stalwart something of a break and provides a starting opportunity for the two front-rowers who have had their year disrupted by injury.
“Obviously you can’t rest players and have them on the bench, but it’s more about managing the playing time. We set ourselves some principles, and one of them is not to make too many changes week-for-week,” he explained, “You want to keep the continuity and the rhythm, and that is vital for players.
“But we want to back the squad system as well and we’ve got great props and we back them. Trevor Nyakane and other players will be rotated in the next few weeks,” Ludeke said.
Hattingh may not have Matfield’s experience or genius in running the lineout, but he is tremendously mobile, has a high work-rate and has performed well in the lineout before.
“He was with Victor in the lineout last year and he is one of our anchors. In the end he played almost all the games either at eight or five and in the Currie Cup he was our leading jumper. It’s great to give him his first start this week, he has continually added a lot of energy off the bench this season,” Ludeke said.
The Bulls may not have lost to an Australian side at Loftus since 2007, but it was the Force who beat them then and the side from Perth have traditionally run the Pretoria team close.
Ludeke may also be relying on his bench providing a late boost because there is tremendous quality there in the form of Matfield, the fit-again loose forward Arno Botha and Nyakane.