Bulls lifted by Loftus epic

Frans Ludeke says the collective belief of the Bulls has skyrocketed after their thrilling victory over the Crusaders.

The Bulls emerged 40-35 victors in the most enthralling of Super Rugby matches to secure a home semi-final. The Stormers’ subsequent loss to the Sharks then amplified the importance of the result, as it ensured that the Bulls cannot be overhauled at the top of the table.

Ludeke admitted the performance was technically and tactically flawed, but lauded the composure and character of his charges, explaining that the result has taken the collective belief of the squad to an unprecedented level.

‘It wasn’t the prettiest game and we certainly had our share of good fortune, but sometimes you get games like that and you just have to guts it out. The best sides all share that trait and I was pleased that we were able to come through the toughest test of the season the way we did,’ Ludeke told keo.co.za.

‘It humbled me to see the boys show that type of character. The fact that they were able to put errors behind them and just concentrate on the task at hand says everything about the calibre of this squad, particularly the senior players who always gave off positive energy. The youngsters fed off that energy and they never gave up because the leaders in the squad refused to.

‘Afterwards you could see in their eyes that they had gone to another level of belief. That happens when you pass tests as difficult as that one was. The Crusaders had some of the world’s best players in their line up and never ever give up.

‘We’re keeping our feet on the ground, but I’d be lying if I told you there isn’t massive self belief within the squad. We believe we can beat anyone when we play to potential.’

Asked about his assessment of Francois Hougaard, who capped his finest performance for the Bulls by scoring the winning try, Ludeke said: ‘He was sensational.

‘He’s really developing into a fine player who is capable of changing the course of a game. It says everything about his immense talent that he has settled into an unfamiliar position [Hougaard is a specialist scrumhalf] and excelled in the way he has.’

Ludeke continued: ‘We got some luck with the last try in the sense that Richie McCaw’s charge down of Morne Steyn’s drop goal [after the siren had sounded] could have rolled anywhere, but it broke back to us. The composure we showed in launching that last counter-attack tells me we’re growing into the team we see ourselves being, and Francois’s finish was of the highest quality.’

In the build up to the ‘finish’ Ludeke refers to, the Crusaders claimed the pass from Bandise Maku to Hougaard was forward. Television replays suggest that the ball deflected forward off a Crusaders player, although that cannot be established conclusively with the angles available.

The Crusaders protested vehemently with referee Marius Jonker, and captain McCaw couldn’t hide his disappointment in the post-match interview, intimating that they were deeply displeased with some of Jonker’s calls.

Ludeke couldn’t see what the fuss was about. ‘I’ve seen it a couple of times and I’m convinced that it didn’t go forward, certainly not off a Bulls player,’ he said.

By Ryan Vrede