PRETORIA (Reuters) – The Bulls’ hopes of a place in the Super Rugby playoffs have been handed a further blow by the return home of Duane Vermeulen, the second Springbok to leave their four-match tour of Australia and New Zealand.
The loose forward went back after Friday’s 22-10 loss to ACT Brumbies in Canberra as part of the agreement with SA Rugby to rest contracted Springboks considered vital to the country’s chances at the World Cup in Japan, the Bulls said on Wednesday.
Vermeulen follows flyhalf Handre Pollard, who played a key role in a rare away success for the Bulls in a 32-17 victory over the Melbourne Rebels on May 17 but then picked up a calf strain in training and flew home for further treatment.
That initial setback is now compounded by Vermeulen’s departure, leaving the side up against it on the New Zealand leg of their trip.
The Bulls are in third place in the South African conference and effectively need to win on Friday at the Auckland Blues and then at the Otago Highlanders on June 7 to have a chance of advancing to the playoffs.
“We need to get a good start and sustain that throughout the match,” said coach Pote Human of this week’s clash at Eden Park.
“They have some quality players, but the real test will be in the set-pieces. The Blues have the best scrum success rate (97%) in the competition, so that will be a critical area for us.”
With Pollard and Vermeulen out, Burger Odendaal takes over the captaincy.
“We are the underdogs, no doubt about that,” added the centre.
“That is good for us, as we can only concentrate on our own game and that we want to achieve. This will have to be very clinical performance from us. If not, it will be a long evening.”
The Bulls last won in New Zealand six years ago when they beat the Blues 28-21 early in the 2013 season.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Christian Radnedge)