He may well merely be delaying the inevitable, but Bulls coach Frans Ludeke on Thursday made four changes to his starting team for their final SuperRugby match against the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Whatever happens, the Bulls cannot make the playoffs and Ludeke’s fate as coach will be decided by a board meeting at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
Jan Serfontein, Deon Stegmann, Dean Greyling and Lappies Labuschagne are all unavailable due to injury, while Handre Pollard and Victor Matfield are sitting out as part of the Saru rest agreement.
Matfield is replaced in the second row by Grant Hattingh, with Arno Botha coming in for Labuschagne at flank. Greyling, who was only ruled out on Thursday morning due to a tight hamstring, will be replaced by Morne Mellet at loosehead prop, while Adriaan Strauss is back at hooker after having his Springbok rest.
Unless there is a change of heart amongst the board, Ludeke is expected to be relieved of the SuperRugby coaching duties, but is likely to stay in charge for this year’s Currie Cup before moving into a director of rugby type position.
Matfield, who is currently doubling up as the team’s attack and lineout coach, is the heavy favourite to be named as Ludeke’s successor and South Africa’s most capped SuperRugby player confirmed that the board can call on him as the new head coach.
“I’ve always said that after rugby I would like to go into coaching and we will see what is decided on Friday. I would love to be the head coach of the Bulls and it’s been fantastic coming on board the coaching team the last couple of years. Rugby is my life, I hate to lose and you can really feel the disappointment at Loftus at the moment,” Matfield said.
The board will surely have Matfield on speed dial on Friday and the 38-year-old hinted that he would lay down the law if he became the Bulls’ new head coach.
“In Super Rugby, the margins are so small and to win, everything has to be 100% right. We have to look at how we do things both on and off the field in order to get that winning culture back into the team,” Matfield said.
The irony is that Matfield must share the blame for the lame attacking displays of the Bulls that led to their demise in the competition.
Ludeke is a top-class human being, but a coach has a shelf-life with any team and his journey with this particular group of players would appear to be over. But the most experienced coach in SuperRugby was able to put a positive spin on his situation at Loftus Versfeld on Thursday.
“I’ve had positive meetings with management this week, there’s been transparency and honesty. After tomorrow [Friday] we will know more. I will give the board a review of the season and prepare for any questions they have. I will be accountable and we’ll also look at the way forward.
“We take responsibility because we haven’t achieved the goals we set ourselves and there are no excuses. But we have made big strides forward, the scrums have been a huge improvement, the maul has been really good and we’re definitely playing more ball-in-hand rugby and with more width. We’ve scored some great tries from open field and a lot of youngsters have come through who will play a lot of games for South Africa in the future,” Ludeke said.
Team: Jesse Kriel, Francois Hougaard, JJ Engelbrecht, Burger Odendaal, Travis Ismaiel, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Rudy Paige, Pierre Spies, Jacques du Plessis, Arno Botha, Grant Hattingh, Flip van der Merwe, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Morné Mellet. Bench – Callie Visagie, Trevor Nyakane, Werner Kruger, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Roelof Smit, Bjorn Basson, Tian Schoeman, Jurgen Visser.