Bulls coach Frans Ludeke finds himself with a somewhat difficult call to make ahead of this weekend’s crunch game against the Sharks. Veteran enforcer lock Bakkies Botha is finally fit after rupturing his Achilles tendon back in December and Ludeke needs to decide how best to use him, if at all.
On paper, it’s a no-brainer of a call. Botha and Victor Matfield are generally regarded as the best lock pairing in the world and there’s a certain bizarre synergy at play between the two of them that sees each play a hell of lot better when the other is on the field. Against a Sharks side that has rediscovered the art of forward play over the last 5 weeks, you could forgive Ludeke for wanting to throw absolutely everything he has into the forward battle. While the addition of Gary Botha to the mix has aided the Bulls scrum immensely this year, my feeling is that they may just find themselves a wee bit light against the Sharks, particularly if the wrecking-ball combination of Jean Deysel and Willem Alberts is selected in the back row. The Bulls first-choice flankers, Dewald Potgeiter and Derick Kuun, while both fast and skillful, both hover just around the 100 kilogram mark, leaving Pierre Spies as the only really “big boy” in the back row. Alberts and Deysel between them add an astonishing 230kg to the Sharks pack weight and they do tend to use those extra kilos to good effect on the drive and in the tackle.
The Bulls pack, though, are looking settled and in Danie Rossouw have a hugely capable and experienced front lock who is fit and in-form. Second row replacement Flip van der Merwe is also enjoying the form of his life right now and it would be the young former Cheetahs player who would lose his spot in the squad should Botha be selected. While Ludeke may justifiably feel that rushing Botha back into his starting lineup might be just the tonic to take the edge off the abrasive Sharks pack, nobody can be really sure right now exactly how long Botha will last, given that he’s had no rugby at all for five months. Sticking with Rossouw and potentially picking Botha on the bench would no doubt be the safer option, but Big Pakslae, despite his nickname, is nowhere near as physical as Botha is, despite being almost as tall and weighing a few kilos more.
It’s a pretty tough decision to make and from a Sharks perspective, I really hope that Ludeke goes with Bakkies. He’ll be only half fit, for one thing and his notoriously volatile temperament tends to boil over in niggly games, leading to yellow cards. That’s just the sort of thing we need.Tweet