Scrumhalf Rudy Paige has probably been the unsung hero of the Bulls’ climb to the top of the South African SuperRugby Conference, but now they are going to have to do without the man who has become their attacking heartbeat for the crunch encounter with the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.
Paige suffered a grade 1 medial ligament tear of his knee in the impressive win over the Sharks and will be out of action for at least two weeks, coach Frans Ludeke admitting that it is a major blow to his team.
“Rudy’s a very busy player and he gets a lot going for us, especially in terms of go-forward on attack. He brings a lot to our game,” Ludeke said.
The 25-year-old has not only provided a crisp, clean service from the base, but has also impressed with excellent decision-making in terms of who to pass to and when to probe gaps on his own.
Ludeke has two options when it comes to replacing Paige.
Francois Hougaard has played more rugby for the Springboks at scrumhalf than at wing, but the mercurial Paul Roos Gymnasium product has become an integral part of a Bulls back three that has produced some exceptional rugby and Ludeke could well decide not to potentially create two problems by moving him to halfback.
Piet van Zyl’s rugby has gone backwards since he moved to Pretoria, but he is likely to get a chance to shine now, at least for a couple of weeks, in the number nine jersey.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is keeping his cards very close to his chest this week, but he will be well aware of some Bulls’ weaknesses this season.
The Bulls are not a side that deals in offloads so the Stormers defence don’t need to worry about that, while, despite upstaging the Sharks last weekend at the breakdown, their record in the rucks has been far inferior to that of the Stormers’ this year.
You know what you’re going to get with the Bulls – the blunt instrument of forwards monotonously carrying the ball up – but it works for them and they have actually scored two more tries than the Stormers thus far in the campaign, even though the Capetonians boast the attacking abilities of Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe, Juan de Jongh and Dillyn Leyds.