JOHANNESBURG - Will the Bulls have a team to field against the Sharks in their Super Rugby clash on Friday evening in Durban?
That will be the question hounding outgoing Bulls coach Nollis Marais after his team was hit by a spate of injuries before and during the June international break.
The Bulls will be without Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard, who suffered a recurrence of the ankle injury that saw him miss out on the last few weeks of Super Rugby when he was on international duty with the SA ‘A’ side.
Pollard was set to feature for the SA ‘A’ side in their second international friendly against the French Barbarians last week Friday at Orlando Stadium in Soweto but was ruled out of the game because of an inflammation in his ankle. He was replaced by Cheetahs flyhalf Fred Zeilinga in that match.
Bulls team doctor Herman Rossouw confirmed that Pollard would miss Friday’s derby against the Sharks but said that the Bok pivot could be fit to play against the Southern Kings a week later at Loftus Versfeld.
“We will keep him out this week, his ankle isn’t where it should be right now,” said Rossouw.
"He picked up a small inflammation while with the SA ‘A’ side. We are doing an infiltration tomorrow, which should get him right for next week.
"It is tough to say if he was rushed back too quickly, he came through his rehab well and we were hundred percent happy with him. Those 60 minutes in the SuperSport Challenge he looked solid and came through well.
"It may be that his work load in the past few weeks has led to the inflammation," Rossouw concluded.
However, Marais’ biggest headache will be on the wings where he will be without four players, including Springbok Jamba Ulengo (knee), Travis Ismaiel (knee), Sibahle Manxwane (concussion) and Jade Stighling (broken jaw).
Ulengo and Ismaiel are in the last phase of their rehabilitation and could be back as early as next week but Manxwane has been sidelined for six to eight weeks with Stighling probably out for the remainder of the Super Rugby season and the majority of the Currie Cup.
Marais will only have Duncan Matthews, with one Super Rugby cap, and Kefentse Mahlo, who is likely to make his Super Rugby debut, available for selection, with the other option in Johnny Kotze also ruled out due to a knee injury.
The Bulls are also running thin at hooker also, with Edgar Marutlulle having undergone an operation on his ankle on Monday from an injury sustained during the World Club 10’s tournament in Mauritius a week ago.
Marais’ team’s woes this season will be further compounded by the unavailability of loose forwards Hanro Liebenberg (ankle), Hendre Stassen (knee), prop Martin Dreyer (ankle), scrumhalf Piet van Zyl (lung infection) and utility back Ulrich Beyers (calf), leaving the Bulls with very little to choose from their initial squad.
A source of comfort for Marais will be the availability of his returning Springboks, with Lood de Jager, Jan Serfontein, Lizo Gqoboka, Jesse Kriel, Rudy Paige and SA ‘A’ stars Jason Jenkins, Warrick Gelant and Trevor Nyakane all having had some decent game time at international level.
Flank Roelof Smit is also back to full fitness but is likely to feature for the Blue Bulls in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge quarter-final against the Sharks.
“Edgar's ankle operated was (Monday) and he will be out for six to eight weeks.
"All the Boks are back this week. Jamba and Travis will be training with but they won’t be available and they will only be ready next week,” Rossouw said.
After the Sharks game, the Bulls will play the Kings a week later at home and will finish off the season against the Stormers at Loftus on July 15.