We have seen the value of two players who play towards the ball
The Arno Botha fan club may be up in arms over his axing from the Bulls starting XV, but the current loose forward combination may just be the most effective for the Bulls.
While Botha has been sensational in his games for the Bulls this season - whether it is coming off the bench or starting - Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is backing the seasoned flank combination of Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann to do the job against the Hurricanes at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Last week, with Stegmann sidelined through a rib injury, Potgieter fulfilled the 'openside' role in the 30-19 win over the Waratahs, while Botha's physicality was used on the 'blindside'.
However, both players ended up playing a similar style and produced comparable stats - Potgieter made seven tackles, produced one off-load, had five runs (for a gain of 20 metres), attended four rucks and won one turnover; while Botha made 10 tackles, had 11 runs (for 101 metres), had one line-break, attended 11 rucks, conceded one penalty and won one turnover.
This week, in Stegmann, the Bulls do have a specialist openside flank, although the coach feels the allround ability of his flanks are their real value.
He suggested that even though Potgieter wears the No.7 jersey - in most South African teams that is the blindside flank - Potgieter does play more like a No.6.
"I feel that every weekend he is in that [openside] role," Ludeke told this website in a an interview, adding: "He [Potgieter] does have the ball-carrying ability of a blindside flank.
"However, if you look at Dewald, he has always played towards the ball - it has always been his style and it is second nature for him to play towards the ball.
"Dewald and Steggies [Stegmann] has always made a good combination and we have seen [in the past] the value of two players who play towards the ball.
"With him [Potgieter] having the ability to carry the ball as well, he can play both roles for us."
Ludeke felt that Potgieter is a "smart and intelligent" player who reads the game very well.
"He started out as a No.8, which just emphasises his utility value," the coach said, adding: "His real strength is his workrate."
There has been a huge clamour for the inclusion of an openside player that is a genuine ball-poacher - players like George Smith (Brumbies), David Pocock (Brumbies) and Heinrich Brüssow (Cheetahs).
However, Ludeke feels the role of the flank has changed somewhat and that the openside flank is not exclusively a 'fetcher'.
"Because the ball is in play for longer periods and there are more phases, it is a big advantage if you have another loose forward who have the breakdown skills, but can also create opportunities with ball in hand - get you over the advantage line and link up with other players," the Bulls coach told this website.
"It is a bonus if you have an openside flank that can do that, and there are a few - take Steggies [Stegmann] as an example, who can play both roles.
"That is Dewald's advantage, he can play the blindside role, but can also go [play] towards the ball.
"For us it is important that you have somebody that makes an impact at the breakdown, because you can win or lose the game there.
"It is about the combination - a specialist at the breakdown, a player that gets you over the advantage line and a No.8 who is an allround player."
By Jan de Koning