Bulls buoyed by rookies’ rise

Frans Ludeke says that their young recruits and players emerging from their junior system will give the Bulls a skills dimension they have lacked in recent years.

The Bulls named six Super Rugby rookies to face the Sharks in Pretoria on Friday evening, among them the young midfield pair of Johann Sadie and Francois Venter, as well as JJ Engelbrecht who plays off the bench.

Sadie impressed in his limited opportunities for the Stormers before the Bulls swooped, former director of rugby Heyneke Meyer saying at the time that he would have taken him to the 2011 World Cup because of his X factor. Sadie has spoken about his improved physical and mental conditioning and the Bulls’ coaching staff privately have massive expectations for the 22-year-old. The Bulls have lacked a world-class outside center in recent years and the belief at the franchise is that given an extended run Sadie will quickly develop into one.

Venter has been identified as a future Springbok, with Meyer telling this site early last year that he expects him to make the step up to Test level in two to three years. A standout player for the Baby Boks, Venter’s skill set is near complete. He needs refinement and that will come with the experience he’ll get in Super Rugby.

Ludeke pointed to their distribution and handling skills and eye for holes in a defensive line as being their primary threat. ‘We haven’t really had players with that skill dimension for some time. They offer us something new. We have a structure that we believe in but within that structure there is room for players of their kind, players whose first instinct is for ball-in-hand attack,’ Ludeke told keo.co.za.

‘They are the type of players that give you a buzz when they have the ball. They are capable of doing something completely unexpected and obviously players like that are invaluable. If we [the pack] give them a good platform they have the ability to be very destructive and create opportunities for the outside backs. That’s where a guy like JJ will come into play later in the game. He can cope very well with limited space, and his acceleration is very good, which is a mark of a good modern-day winger.’

The Bulls also have other graduates from their famed junior systems in CJ Stander and Arno Botha (excluded from the match 22) to stir optimism. Stander didn’t look an impostor in his senior matches to date, while Botha, the best forward for the Baby Boks at the World Championships last year, won’t be suppressed for long.

However, while there is optimism about their near future, a mass exodus of senior players will undoubtedly affect them in the present. Ludeke has conceded this but refused to accept mid-table mediocrity.

‘There’s a culture of success here and while we are realistic about our situation we still believe we can have a good season. The only major concerns we have are at lock. If one or two of the boys are injured we’re in trouble. Other than that we have good experience around the park and decent depth in most positions. We want to challenge for the SA conference and that will start with winning our home matches. We dropped points at home last year and we want to make Loftus a fortress again.’
By Ryan Vrede

Follow Ryan on Twitter
Follow SA Rugby magazine on Twitter