Seven Bulls stalwarts are leaving Loftus. Blue Bulls Company CEO Barend Van Graan has confirmed the departures of Pierre Spies, Jacques Du Plessis, Flip Van der Merwe, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Victor Matfield, Akona Ndungane and Francois Hougaard to French and Japanese clubs as well as retirement. Spies (via Japan) and Du Plessis will join French club Montpellier, Van Der Merwe moves to Clermont-Avergne and Potgieter to Lyon. Matfield will retire after the Rugby World Cup and Ndungane hangs up his boots this weekend as his contract was only extended for this year’s Super Rugby competition.
Hougaard leaves for Japan later this year and depending on a number of factors, will make a call on whether to return to Loftus Versfeld, at a later stage. Van Graan says: ‘How does one begin to describe and acknowledge the contributions of these players over all these years. Victor re-wrote all the record books as player and captain and we have been very privileged to have him continuing as a coach for the past couple of seasons. His input and education on the next generation of players has always been extraordinary. Pierre is a second generation Blue Bull and was a massive inspiration to so many supporters. We understand hismove to go and play abroad, especially as he missed two years of his career with injury. Akona became a legend here at Loftus Versfeld with his fearless play and commitment. He was asked to act as a mentor to the younger players in the squad this season and did a superb job. All three of them are Super Rugby centurions for the Vodacom Bulls and were part of the squads that won the Super Rugby title three times.’
Van Graan also said ‘au revoir’ to the French contingent: ‘Flip deservedly became an established Springbok while playing for us and represented the Bulls in close to 80 matches. As with Jacques, the realities of the exchange rate and their deserved market value in France made it impossible for us to try and financially compete on our own against those offers. Jacques-Louis also came to our rescue at short notice last year and got us back to winning ways. We will never forget that contribution.’ Van Der Merwe and Du Plessis could still play in the Absa Currie Cup if not being used by the Springboks, as their contracts run till at the end of October. Spies and Hougaard, who are in the same situation, indicated that they would seek an early release to go to Japan, should they not be called up by the Springboks.
Van Graan also acknowledged the contributions of backline coach Pieter Rossouw and physiotherapist Ronee Eksteen, who both will leave the union. Van Graan says: ‘They have done great work over many years and were part of some very successful squads in that time, a testimony of their abilities and contributions.’ According to the BBC High Performance Manager, Xander Janse Van Rensburg, negotiations with Hougaard is ongoing.
Janse Van Rensburg says: ‘He is going to Canon in Japan, but we are still hoping to see him back here for next year’s Super Rugby tournament. We are working hard at a possible deal and we are hoping that a national contract could aid our cause. He is a sought-after player because of his versatility.’ Janse Van Rensburg confirmed that Jurgen Visser’s contract has not been renewed, saying: ‘We want to thank Jurgen for his positive and constructive contributions on and off the field.’