As part three of the four-part series on South African Vodacom Super Rugby franchises, MARIETTE ADAMS selects the best players to have played for the Vodacom Bulls between 2010 and 2019.
15. Zane Kirchner
Zane Kirchner was not universally adored, even when he played for the Springboks. But in Bulls-country he was one of the revered sons. Kirchner made his debut for the Bulls in 2008 and went on to earn 81 Vodacom Super Rugby caps, scored 105 points and won two titles (in 2009 and 2010). The Sideshow Bob-lookalike is a versatile player, but was primarily used as a fullback by the Bulls and he played his best rugby for the union in that position. Kirchner waved the Bulls and Loftus goodbye after the 2013 season, when he signed for European powerhouse Leinster. In 2017 he joined the Dragons and a year later he moved to the Bristol Bears in England. Irrespective of his journey-man ways these days, Kirchner was a loyal servant of Bulls rugby during their golden period of dominance.
14. Akona Ndungane
Speaking of loyalty, they don’t come more loyal than Akona Ndungane. He joined the Bulls in 2005 and stayed at the union until his retirement 10 years later in 2015. Much like his twin brother Odwa, who played for the Sharks, Ndungane was a dependable player with a low error-rate and a clinical finisher. He made 108 Super Rugby appearances with a return of 165 points for the Bulls before calling it a day in 2015. He was also part of Jake White’s World Cup-winning Springbok squad in 2007.
13. Jan Serfontein
Jan Serfontein spent five seasons playing Super Rugby for the Bulls, from 2013 to 2017. But in that period, he proved just why he had been earmarked as a future star from such a young age. He was part of the successful Junior Bok team in 2012 and was named World Junior Player of the Year that season for his exceptional performances. A year later, Serfontein made the Bulls’ Super Rugby squad and became a household name. Electric in attack and effective in defence, Serfontein became a key member of the Bulls’ set-up and scored 17 tries for the team. Over the same period, he played 35 Tests for the Springboks. He joined Montpellier in 2017 and earlier this year he signed a contract extension that will keep him at the French club until 2023.
12. Burger Odendaal
Burger Odendaal joined the Bulls’ junior ranks in 2012 and made his senior debut in the Currie Cup in 2013. But it would take another two years before he would get an opportunity in the Super Rugby side, but he has been a mainstay in the lineup since then. Odendaal is not to everyone’s fancy, but there can be no denying that he is an integral part of the Bulls’ backline. And his role within the team will take on greater significance in 2020 when the Bulls will be without the likes of Handre Pollard, Jesse Kriel and Lood de Jager to name a few.
11. Francois Hougaard
Francois Hougaard signed for the Bulls as a scrumhalf. But as time went by, he was shifted to the wing. He too was part of the Bulls squad that won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. Hougaard is known for his pace and strength and those attributes coupled with his tenacity, made him one of the most dangerous runners in Super Rugby at the time. Several other wingers have roamed through the doors at Loftus this decade, not none had an extended run on the field to lay claim to this position.
10. Handre Pollard
For four years in this decade, Morne Steyn ruled the roost at flyhalf in Pretoria. But the emergence of young Handre Pollard suggested that his time at Loftus was coming to an end. And that was exactly the case. Pollard made his Super Rugby debut in 2013 and was the first choice No 10 from then until 2019. At the Bulls, Pollard developed into arguably the most physical flyhalf in world rugby and one of the best goal-kickers. He missed a couple of seasons due to career-threatening injuries, but came back strongly to regain his place in the Bulls and Springboks’ starting lineup. Pollard’s career peaked in 2019 when he finished the Super Rugby campaign as the leading point scorer before expertly guiding them to both Rugby Championship and World Cup titles.
9. Fourie du Preez
In this decade, Fourie du Preez only turned out for the Bulls in two seasons (2010 and 2011). But such was his influence, that the Bulls have struggled to recruit a scrumhalf who could even come close to emulating him. At 37, Du Preez has long since retired from the game, but South African rugby in general and Bulls rugby in particular will in all probability never unearth another scrumhalf with the speed at which he got the ball out of the ruck as well as the accuracy of his pass. Du Preez was a complete player and the local rugby fraternity – teammates, coaches, fans – were all better for it. In some parts, Du Preez is even regarded as the greatest South African player of all time.
8. Pierre Spies
The eighthman was a vital cog in the Bulls’ forward machine. Spies was athletic, thrived in open play and was renowned for his carrying and linking play. He earned 119 Super Rugby caps between 2005 and 2015 and 52 Test caps between 2006 and 2014. He joined Montpellier in 2016 but when he was released from his contract a year later, Spies decided to call it a day and retire.
7. Dewald Potgieter
Another long-serving member of the Bulls squad, Dewald Potgieter was a physically abrasive player, who always fought hard to prove himself worthy of higher honours. Potgieter spent eight seasons in Pretoria, winning two Vodacom Cups, one Currie Cup and two Super Rugby titles. At 32, Potgieter is still going strong as a player for the Worcester Warriors in England, playing alongside is former Bulls teammates Francois Hougaard and Wynand Olivier.
6. Deon Stegmann
Deon Stegmann was one of those tough, no-nonsense players who just got on with the job at hand. In his heyday, Stegmann was regarded as a world-class openside flank, who loved to play to the ball and making a nuisance of himself at rucks. Stegmann represented the Bulls in 96 Super Rugby matches, scoring nine tries and winning two titles. After his golden years at Loftus, Stegmann’s career took him to Japan, where he still plays for Honda Heat in the Top League.
5. Victor Matfield
One of the most decorated players the game as ever seen, Victor Matfield was in all honesty the easiest selection in this team. A lineout exponent like no other, Matfield enjoyed three different stints at the Bulls from 2001 to 2007, then against from 2009 to 2011 before returning in 2014 for two seasons until the end of 2015. Over the course of his glittering career, Matfield became the most capped Bulls player in Super Rugby and the most capped Springbok of all time. He also lays claim to the title of most successful Bulls captain in history.
4. Flip van der Merwe
The temptation was big to select the legendary Bakkies Botha, but Flip van der Merwe had played a bigger role for the Bulls this past decade than Botha. Van der Merwe wasn’t always the most exemplary player on the park, but he played with his heart on his sleeve and always acted in the best interest of his team and teammates. Having served as Botha’s apprentice for the longest time, Van der Merwe stepped up to take over as option at the front of the lineout and took on the role of enforcer in the team. He traded the Bulls for Clermont in 2015 and is still producing high-level physical performances in the French Top 14 and the European Champions Cup.
3. Werner Kruger
A seasoned prop that has seen it all, Werner Kruger is currently plying his trade for Welsh province the Scarlets. But before his move north, he was mainstay in the Bulls’ lineup and one who anchored their front row. Kruger played in Pretoria between 2008 and 2016, and chalked up 120 Super Rugby appearances making him the first player in the union’s history to notch up 100 caps in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby. Kruger’s biggest strength was his work at the set-piece, but he was also mobile, which made him an asset around the field. He will go down as one of the great Bulls players.
2. Adriaan Strauss
After trading the Cheetahs for the Bulls in 2015, Adriaan Strauss quickly made the No 2 jersey his own. And not only that, he also went on to claim the Bulls’ captaincy. A destructive ball-carrier, Strauss put in one excellent performance after another for the Bulls and led with such aplomb that he was named Springbok captain under Allister Coetzee. And though that was a bleak period in Springbok history, it was through no fault of his own. Strauss retired in 2017.
1. Dean Greyling
A Bulls man through and through, Greyling is a product of the Bulls academy, having represented the union at all age-grade levels before turning pro. He made his Super Rugby debut in 2008 and the Test debut in 2011. He missed many weeks of action through either injury or suspension, but when he was active, Greyling was a colossus at scrum time and always made his presence felt in the tighter exchanges. He left the Bulls ranks in 2016 to go play for Oyonnax, but after one season in France, Greyling called time on his career.
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