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Ken Borland

Last rites for sad Bulls with Matfield last link to glory days 0

Posted on December 14, 2016 by Ken


The Bulls will complete another sad SuperRugby campaign in Pretoria today against the Cheetahs and, by the end of the game, Victor Matfield could be the last person remaining at Loftus Versfeld with any link to the glory days of 2007-2010 when they won the competition three times in four years.

The Bulls confirmed yesterday that the match against the Cheetahs will be the last for captain Pierre Spies and flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter as they join the overseas exodus of players that will also include Jacques du Plessis, Flip van der Merwe and Akona Ndungane, while Francois Hougaard is heading for Japan but negotiations are underway for him to return for next year’s SuperRugby tournament.

Matfield is not playing against the Cheetahs because he is being rested as per the agreement with the Springbok management, but he has already announced that his playing days will be over after the World Cup.

But the veteran lock is bound to be back at Loftus Versfeld in the new year because he is the favourite to replace Frans Ludeke as coach. The man who was behind the 2009 and 2010 wins faced the Bulls board yesterday in a last-ditch attempt to save his job, but unless there was a late change in heart, Ludeke is also on his way out.

So there will be a sombre mood at Loftus Versfeld tonight, made worse by the knowledge that even a Bulls victory will do little to change their fortunes in another season that has fallen way short of expectations.

At least the rugby on offer could provide some entertainment.

New Cheetahs coach Franco Smith is preaching an expansive, linking style of play, while Spies has stressed how determined the Bulls are to end on a high.

“There’s plenty of motivation because we want to end on a high. If we can get five points and finish in the top eight on the log then the picture looks a bit better. We want to play a good attacking brand of rugby and hold on to the ball for a few more phases. There should be plenty of broken-field play and the Cheetahs love that as well,” Spies said.

Putting their bodies on the line in defence is probably not going to rank too high on either side’s list of priorities, but the Bulls should have a slight edge in motivation as they look to avoid a third defeat on home soil this season.


Bulls & Lions get their waggle on 0

Posted on August 03, 2016 by Ken


Social media was overflowing with praise for the Hurricanes and the Crusaders after their enthralling match in Wellington on Saturday morning, but the Bulls and Lions showed that evening at Loftus Versfeld that South African sides can also put on a show and both Victor Matfield and Johan Ackermann were waggling their metaphorical fingers at all the prophets of doom over the strength of local rugby.

The Bulls edged out the Lions 35-33 in a scintillating match in which seven tries were scored, several of them dazzling efforts using the width of the field and featuring superb offloading skills and vision.

“I saw the Hurricanes play the Crusaders this morning and I thought ‘what a great game’. But people must have enjoyed this game too, there was a lot of width and ball-in-hand rugby. New players are standing up in South African rugby and I’m sure the senior guys will start hitting their best form too towards the end of Super Rugby,” Bulls captain Matfield said after the win which returned his side to the top of the South African Conference.

“I think we have a different physicality when it comes to the rucks and scrums here in South Africa, whereas it’s more of a free-for-all when they play each other in New Zealand. They have a different mindset over there, the defences aren’t so tight. I still believe the best South African players compare to theirs and especially when you put them in a Springbok jersey,” Lions coach Ackermann said.

The Bulls started the game in exhilarating fashion playing the sort of rugby usually associated with the free-spirited Lions and coach Frans Ludeke said he was delighted with the first half, which ended with the home side 25-13 up.

“The first half was almost perfect and we had those attacking shapes Victor’s been chasing, we were accurate and really put them on the back foot. Getting momentum on the gain-line really helped and Victor has worked really hard on keeping the players on their feet and making good decisions,” Ludeke said.

But the Lions totally dominated the third quarter to snatch a 26-25 lead in the 54th minute and Matfield said the pressure was then really on his side.

“We started well, playing the way we wanted to – with width, but after the break we made mistakes and that put us under pressure. We showed great character to fight back and get the momentum back and I was very happy about the team’s will to win,” the veteran lock said.

Matfield mentioned “needing magic from someone” to get the Bulls out of their hole and that someone was replacement Pierre Spies, who sparked the move that ended with him powering through several tackles to score and regain the lead.

Ackermann bemoaned mistakes that cost his team but was pleased with their overall performance and contribution to a great game of rugby.

“All I ask is for them to play with their hearts and they did. I’m willing to lose if the passion and commitment are there and credit to the Bulls, especially for that first half. They punished every mistake we made,” Ackermann said.


Matfield to the bench & 2 new props for the Bulls 0

Posted on February 09, 2016 by Ken


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.



Matfield returned to finish on a high at World Cup & work with Meyer again 0

Posted on September 18, 2015 by Ken


Finishing his career on a high at the World Cup and having another chance to work with coach Heyneke Meyer were the main reasons Victor Matfield returned to rugby last year after retiring in 2011.

And even the skeptics were won over as Matfield enjoyed a fine season, his excellent form for the Bulls in SuperRugby winning him a return to the Springbok side.

And when the likes of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Flip van der Merwe were injured, the Springboks were reliant on the veteran number five lock to run their lineout, which he did with aplomb.

“There were a lot of challenges last year and it was a big decision to make to play again, it wasn’t easy and I was a bit nervous. But I’m pretty happy with my personal performance.

“Some of the other contenders were injured so it made it a bit easier for me, it opened up a gap for me,” Matfield said.

Having retired at the last World Cup and begun moving into his coaching career at the Bulls, it was Springbok coach Meyer, who coached the Bulls from 2000-2007, who told Matfield he believed he could still feature at this year’s global showpiece, even though he will be 38 when the tournament begins.

“Heyneke told me that if I was at my best, then he knew I would be good enough for another World Cup. But he said I had to play well in SuperRugby. He asked me to come back and knowing I had his backing was a big help in pushing myself.

“It’s one of the big things that motivates me, a new opportunity to work with Heyneke at the Springboks. We were able to build something very special at the Bulls and I was really keen to play with players like Fourie du Preez again, and also guys like Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers, under Heyneke. And it’s been really successful having all of us back together at the Boks,” Matfield said.

The challenge of getting used to the intense physicality required when playing in the pack in top-class rugby was the first thing Matfield had to deal with, and thereafter it was a mental adjustment.

“It was all about the mindset in the end. When you’re 21, rugby is everything. But when you reach my age, then your marriage and your kids are also very important. But you have to decide to give rugby everything, which is a big decision.

“But with the backing of my family, rugby has become number one again. My wife Monja knows that if I put my mind to something then I am very disciplined about it,” Matfield said.

Matfield was allowed to take it relatively easy in the pre-season by Bulls coach Frans Ludeke but the veteran has played all 240 minutes of their first three SuperRugby games.

“Last year I thought that I was only going to play five or six games, but I ended up playing all of them. And now this year we lost our first two games at home, so the pressure is on again.

“I still hope to get managed in terms of game time because it’s important for your recovery. My fitness is there, but after five or six games it takes longer to recover from the knocks and be ready for the next game at my age,” South Africa’s most-capped player said.

Matfield is confident that Meyer will preside over a successful World Cup campaign, and with De Villiers recovering from knee surgery, the former Toulon lock might well be captain.

“My last year before retiring was 2011 and that was a bad year, with a very disappointing World Cup. Heyneke believes I can win another World Cup this year and there are very talented players in South Africa at the moment.

“Heyneke is pushing for us all to be kept fresh through SuperRugby, so hopefully there aren’t too many injuries. If we want to win, then we need all our best players there,” Matfield said.

Matfield has precious experience and his lineout skills are still invaluable. It may seem preposterous, but one of the Springboks best players in the 2015 World Cup could well be Matfield, as it was in Paris in 2007.



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