Serfontein, Hougaard return for Bulls

Francois Hougaard
Francois Hougaard

The Bulls will be buoyed by the return from injury of scrumhalf Francois Hougaard and centre Jan Serfontein for their crucial Super Rugby semi-final against the Brumbies at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Serfontein replaces Francois Venter in the midfield and Hougaard’s inclusion comes at the expense of Jano Vermaak, who will supply cover from the bench.

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said on Wednesday that accuracy would be decisive against a Brumbies side desperate to make the final.

“We would like to be accurate from the first minute to the last, and turnovers in a semi-final will be vital,” Ludeke said.

“We are playing against very good opposition and that is why they finished third in the competition [after the league phase] and they have a lot of strengths all-round.”

The team will be further boosted by the inclusion of lock Paul Willemse, who takes the place of Jacques du Plessis on the bench.

While the Brumbies narrowly won 23-20 in the previous encounter between the two teams in Canberra in March, the Bulls’ semi-final history at Loftus counts heavily in their favour.

The Pretoria side have never lost a Super Rugby last-four clash on home turf and they should use the support from the Loftus faithful to their benefit.

Ludeke, however, said they could not rely solely on the home fans and they would have to be accurate in executing their game plan.

“It is about getting in the right areas and setting up a good platform to launch a good attack, and it is all about being patient because we believe we’ve got the ability to score tries and to squeeze points when we are in the right area,” he said.

The Bulls mentor believed the Brumbies played a similar style of rugby to the men in blue, which would make for an intense battle.

“They play a lot like us — it is field position, a suffocate type of game.

“They are very good on defence, with a solid pack of forwards, and in broken field they have players that can finish off.

“The set pieces will be vital and you have to control the broken field, and we will have to use the opportunities when we get there.”

Meanwhile, Brumbies coach Jake White named an unchanged team for the match.

Though his side faced an uphill battle against the Bulls, White said his charges were up for the challenge.

“The Bulls present us with a huge challenge this weekend. We know they will play through their forwards and use Morne [Steyn] to finish with points,” White said.

“They have a good record here at Loftus and for our players to experience running on in front of a full house of more than 50,000 people will be fantastic.

“They are a typical South African side — very big and physical with some quality finishers out wide — so it’s up to our players to combat that with our own game.”

Bulls team: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter (captain), Jacques Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Grant Hattingh, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Frik Kirsten, Morne Mellett, Paul Willemse, Jono Ross, Jano Vermaak, Jurgen Visser.

Brumbies team: Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Clyde Rathbone, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Ben Mowen (captain), George Smith, Peter Kimlin, Sam Carter, Scott Fardy, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio. Replacements: Siliva Siliva, Ruan Smith, Fotu Auelua, Colby Faingaa, Ian Prior, Andrew Smith, Joe Tomane. – sapa