Springbok lock Bakkies Botha makes a welcome return to the field this weekend when he lines up alongside his old partner Victor Matfield for the Bulls ahead of their match against the Sharks on Saturday.
Botha will make his first Super 14 appearance since last year’s Super 14 final at Loftus Versfeld after an Achilles heel injury kept him out of action for almost six months.
Botha moves into the lock position in the place of Danie Rossouw, who drops to the bench. Rossouw must feel unlucky as he has been one of the standout locks in the competition. The same goes for Flip van der Merwe, who drops out of the match 22 after – as captain Victor Matfield calls it – “being the surprise package of the Super 14.”
The embarrassment of riches that the Bulls currently possess in the engine room must be a concern for the Sharks this weekend, but Botha’s start could be put more down to the fact that it is safer to start him in case he breaks down, as he can then be replaced.
The other interesting choice in the team selection was that of Jacques-Louis Potgieter at outside centre in the place of the injured Jaco Pretorius.
Potgieter came on as a replacement last weekend when Pretorius hobbled off against the Lions and excelled in his partnership with Wynand Olivier in the midfield. Potgieter also will have a psychological advantage over the Sharks after he put them out of the Currie Cup with a last-gasp drop goal in last year’s semi-final.
“It’s nice to have Ou Grote (the big one) back next to me,” Bulls captain Victor Matfield said, “But we are very privileged to have locks of the quality of Danie and Flip, who must be the surprise package of the year, in our team. If you look at how well Danie played last weekend against the Lions, it must have been a difficult decision.”
Coach Frans Ludeke said the combination between the two blonde centres Olivier and Potgieter worked well against the Lions. But Ludeke said it wasn’t a massive surprise that Olivier was chosen in his preferred inside centre position. Ironically it will be Potgieter’s first start for the Bulls, after 10 appearances as a substitute. Both Olivier and Potgieter are former Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Affies) pupils.
“It’s not major for us,” Ludeke said, “Whether the one is inside, or outside isn’t a big thing. They can shift around for whatever is needed and you would have seen that Jacques-Louis moves inside anyway from broken play. To have two such good playmakers is a good thing for us.”
Ludeke said he didn’t believe the former Free Stater’s game against the Sharks in last year’s Currie Cup had much significance to this game.
“You know, you never know what the mindset of the other team is, but I think they’re probably too experienced to let something like that affect them. This is about this weekend, creating new chances and finishing them off when you have created them.”
Francois Hougaard returns to the side after Wednesday morning’s drama at the practice session where Akona Ndungane’s comeback was stunted as he broke his leg for the second time in less than a year. Hougaard missed the Lions game after he pulled a hamstring in the captain’s run last Friday night and was replaced by John Mametsa. Mametsa will turn out for the Vodacom Cup side in their semi-final against the Sharks on Loftus’ C field earlier on Saturday.
15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 13. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 12. Wynand Olivier, 11. Francois Hougaard, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Fourie du Preez, 8. Pierre Spies, 7. Dewald Potgieter, 6. Deon Stegmann, 5. Victor Matfield (captain), 4. Bakkies Botha, 3. Werner Kruger, 2. Gary Botha, 1. Gurthrö Steenkamp
Substitutes: 16. Bandise Maku, 17. Bees Roux, 18. Danie Rossouw, 19. Derick Kuün, 20. Heini Adams, 21. Stephan Dippenaar, 22. Pedrie Wannenburg
[Info from Sport24.co.za]