The Reds two game tour of South Africa could not have begun on a worse note with the news that both Hugh McMeniman and Morgan Turinui, will be missing from the squad to take on the Bulls this weekend.
Morgs has finally succumbed to a case of ‘pie-eater’s shoulder’ after struggling with it throughout the trial phases, while Madness, who was in some doubt with a shoulder injury of his own, has flown home on compassionate grounds. While the loss of Morgs can be covered in some respects by Charlie Fetoai, the loss of McMeniman will leave an un-pluggable hole in an already weak Reds pack.
As shown in the trial match against the Force, the Reds line-out looked pretty ordinary but it was the sight of the scrum going backwards in the first 20 mins that really sent whispers of concern around Ballymore – not the sort of form you’re after when going up against the Bulls.
Although the Bulls are yet to name their team, surely they won’t stray too far from their usual power game – which will be enhanced with this year’s return of uber-Bulls, Victor Matfield and JP Nel.
The news isn’t all bad for the Reds however, as some strange things have been going on around Loftus. Most of the Bulls big-guns have only played one trial match, two weeks ago against the Cheetahs, which they lost. There have also been whispers of some less than happy campers within the Bulls squad as well as pressure on Coach Frans Ludeke, since Bulls favourite Heyneke Meyer, pulled the pin at Leicester. How much the Bulls will miss the cultured boot of Derrick Hougaard could also be a telling factor.
The game will be decided at the set piece. If the Reds can minimise the damage here, they may be able to run the Bulls into the ground by playing the up-tempo game that worked so well for them in the last 30 minutes of the Force trial match – this is their only hope.
Whatever the outcome of the match, it will be a memorable one for Reds hooker Sean Hardman, who plays his 100th Super rugby match – a first for the Reds.
Cote says: Bulls by 10
Reds squad(from fullback): Peter Hynes, Digby Ioane, Charlie Fetoai, Berrick Barnes (c), Brando Va’aulu, Quade Cooper, Ben Lucas, Leroy Houston, Daniel Braid, Scott Higginbotham, Adam Byrnes, Van Humphries, Dayna Edwards, Sean Hardman, Greg Holmes. Reserves: Saia Faingaa, Laurie Weeks, Robert Simmons, Poutasi Luafutu, Will Genia, Anthony Faingaa, Mark McLinden
Bulls squad (from fullback): Zane Kirchner; Akona Ndungane, Jaco Pretorius, Wynand Olivier, Bryan Habana; Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez; Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield (captain), Bakkies Botha, Werner Kruger, Derick Kuün, Gurthrö Steenkamp. Reserves: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Frik Kirsten, Danie Rossouw, Pedrie Wannenburg, Heini Adams, Burton Francis, JP Nel.