Bulls coach Frans Ludeke concedes their narrow loss against the Brumbies was disappointing but remains optimistic of securing a home semi-final.
The Bulls went down 32-31 in Canberra on Friday to finish their Australasian tour with a disappointing two from five return. However, with three of their last four matches to be played at Loftus and with a game in hand over the second placed Sharks, the Bulls can be justifiably confident of securing their second home semi-final in the last three years.
In the last four years they boast an exceptional record at Loftus post their Australian tour, having lost just three times. The Chiefs will be the most testing of their three opponents, but they remain favourites to take at least four points from that clash, while the Force and Cheetahs should be negotiated fairly easily.
‘Sure we’re bitterly disappointed not to have held on [against the Brumbies]. I thought we played exceptionally well up to the point where they scored that last try and the boys know that it was a missed opportunity. To push a quality side like the Brumbies that close, especially without Bakkies and Victor, was a special effort,’ Ludeke told keo.co.za.
‘We went down but we’re certainly not out. We are confident that we can do well at Loftus over the next couple of weeks. Obviously we’re disappointed that we conceded four tries. We let ourselves down in defence and we’ll address that. But other than that I was happy with most facets of our play – the set phases, the breakdown and our tactical kicking game were all very good.
‘So we’re not coming into our next match low on confidence at all. The Chiefs will be very tough to beat, but our approach has always been to control the controllable. If we play to our potential we feel we can do well against any side in this tournament.’
Ludeke said he hadn’t had an opportunity to analyse the Chiefs yet, but he is unlikely to discover that their strengths and weaknesses have changed dramatically to what they have been in recent years.
They are formidable when fed with broken field ball and when their ruck recycle is quick, and struggle when starved in this regard.
‘We’ll have a closer look at them this week but they’re always dangerous when given opportunities to run at you from broken field,’ Ludeke said. ‘Perhaps they’ve developed some new attacking tactics over the course of the season. We’ll have a closer look today.’
Ludeke is likely to reinstate openside flanker Deon Stegmann to the starting line-up given their need to stifle the Chiefs’ flow at the breakdown. They’ll also be bolstered by the return of Victor Matfield, after he missed the Brumbies game for the birth of his second child last week.
This means Pedrie Wannenberg and Wilhelm Steenkamp are likely to play off the bench, with Danie Rossouw being retained at lock in Bakkies Botha’s absence.
By Ryan Vrede