Matfield: Bulls playing ball with Boks
Matfield: Bulls playing ball with BoksSHARE
The Bulls were not just thinking about themselves when they made their latest selections, but also the impact it could have on the Springboks.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, in making three changes to his forwards for Saturday's Super Rugby clash against the Lions at Ellis Park, opted to start with Grant Hattingh at lock – with Victor Matfield watching from the stands.
Jacques Engelbrecht fills the gap at No.8, created by Hattingh's positional switch, with Marcel van der Merwe starting at tighthead prop and Werner Kruger playing off the bench.
Ludeke, speaking to rugby365, described the changes ahead of the trip down the N1 to Johannesburg as "using the squad system".
"The plan was always to use him [Matfield] wisely through the campaign," Ludeke said about the well-documented plan to not play Matfield during their Australasian tour.
Their plan to "manage" the World Cup-winning second row forward, in his comeback after a two-year hiatus, was based on extensive discussions with the player, the Bulls management and also Bok coach Heyneke Meyer.
That is why they wanted to play him as little as possible on tour.
"When we picked up injuries before and during the tour, [along with captain Flip van der Merwe's ban] we had to revisit the plan," Ludeke told this website.
The loss of the bulk of their leadership meant Matfield played in three of the four tour matches in Australasia – all bonus-point defeats.
"It was vital for Victor to step in to help stabilise and turn our campaign around," Ludeke said about their decision to also use him in the home games against the Cheetahs and Stormers – victories that put them back in the play-off hunt.
However, given their undertaking – in those discussions with the board and Bok coach – the Bulls felt this week was the right time to use the rotation system as part of managing Matfield.
It was not the overriding factor, but the Bulls did take into consideration Matfield's likely role with the Boks in the June Tests – against the World XV at Newlands (June 7), Wales (Durban, June 14 and Nelspruit, June 21) and Scotland (Port Elizabeth, June 28).
There is the risk of breaking the momentum they have built up in recent weeks, but Ludeke told rugby365 it is more about belief in the players in the squad.
"It has been part of the planning, with Grant Hattingh working with Victor on calling the line-outs," the Bulls mentor said.
"It has always been part of our plan, also moving forward," he said of when Matfield retires again.
"Flip [van der Merwe] is also an experienced campaigner and an international player that can make the [line-out] calls. He can play at both No.4 and No.5.
"Grant [Hattingh] will have enough back-up, who can help him on the field and support him in that department."
By Jan de Koning