Matfield enters Force fray
Matfield enters Force fray

The Bulls have lost captain Flip van der Merwe for Saturday night's Super Rugby clash with Western Force after the Springbok lock was suspended for foul play.

The loss is a boost to the Force, who are looking for a fourth successive home win, but it means legendary Springbok lock Victor Matfield will assume captaincy of the Pretoria team for the 78th time.

Van der Merwe, who was to pack down alongside Matfield, faced a SANZAR judicial panel yesterday and was banned for three weeks.

He was cited for punching or striking Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan in the 75th minute of the 19-12 loss at Allianz Stadium last Saturday.

The judiciary ruled he struck Ryan with his hand, arm or fist when he was in a vulnerable position at the base of a collapsed scrum where he could not protect himself.

Matfield, the most capped South African player in Super Rugby and the most experienced captain, had intended touring in his role as a coach on the Bulls' four-match Australasian trip.

But injuries to Deon Stegmann and Dewald Potgieter in the first game forced his recall.

The 36-year-old returned to Super Rugby this season following his retirement in 2011 and is eyeing selection for next year's World Cup.

The Bulls have lost all three tour games and coach Frans Ludeke has a few problems to solve before naming his side today.

Paul Willemse will take van der Merwe's place.

Full-back Jurgen Visser and winger Akona Ndungane are set to return from injury and Francois Hougaard will come back to scrum-half with Piet van Zyl out injured.

Rudy Paige is expected to move to the bench as the reserve No.9 while Ludeke must decide between Callie Visagie and Bongi Mtonambi for the hooking role.

Ndungane said the loss of the captain was a blow.

"Flip is one of our experienced players and he is a huge loss for us but it gives Paul Willemse a great chance to put his hand up," the Springbok winger said.

"Our main focus is getting this tour on track. Things have not gone our way.

"We have had injuries but they are part of the game and now we have to move on.

"We can't do anything about injuries but fortunately we have a big squad.

"The Force have raised their game to another level and they will be a challenge.

"They have done well, particularly in defence. They don't give much away so we will have to focus on breaking them down."

The West Australian

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