Cape Town - The pressure of being competitive in two concurrent competitions is being felt by the Bulls, but for lock Janko Swanepoel, playing two matches a week at times provides him with an ideal opportunity to grow his game.
The 22-year-old second-rower, who attended Stellenberg High School near Cape Town and joined the Bulls straight after school, has had to adjust his sights since graduating through the junior ranks at Loftus Versfeld.
He arrived in Pretoria as a No 5 primarily, but the lanky Swanepoel – who is 2m tall and weighs about 107kg – has rolled up his sleeves to play in the enforcer No 4 role as well over the last few years.
“I began as a five lock in the junior ranks, but when Jake gave me an opportunity to play at four (in the senior side), I said to myself ‘Why not?’. I will play wherever I get an opportunity, and I enjoy both roles a lot. At five, I like to lead the lineout and things like that, but overall, where I get chosen, I will play,” Swanepoel said after practice at Loftus on Tuesday.
“At the start, it was something to get used to – one weekend, you’re benching for the URC team, and then you are playing on the next Wednesday already for the Currie Cup side. It’s a bit tough on the body, but you start to get used to that. It’s great to get an opportunity every time and it’s a privilege.
“If you think about the Bulls, they always produce the top locks. Ruan (Nortje) and Walt (Steenkamp) are both in very good form, and it’s good, healthy competition. I am very happy with where I am at the moment, and to be part of the team week in and week out is the most important for me. I must just do my best with every opportunity, and grab it with both hands.”
Swanepoel has recovered from a head knock that kept him out of last week’s 48-38 Currie Cup victory over Griquas, saying that “everything is again 100% … I passed my tests”, so he is likely to get much-needed game time in Saturday’s encounter against the Lions at Loftus.
Nortje has been outstanding as the main lineout jumper and in broken play, so Swanepoel will look to put in a commanding performance against the Lions to catch the eye of director of rugby Jake White once more ahead of the last United Rugby Championship league match against the Ospreys in Wales on May 20.
The Bulls have to win that to end as high as possible on the log, and hopefully secure a home quarter-final, but they top the Currie Cup standings as well, and want to continue keeping the Cheetahs – who have a game in hand – below them.
“All the focus is on the Lions this week, because every game in the Currie Cup is important for us, just to keep that top spot on the log. We take it game for game, and after the Lions, then we will start focusing on the Ospreys game,” Swanepoel added.
“What we planned against Griquas was to start well, and that is something we struggled with in previous games. So, we focused a lot on doing well at the beginning, and that happened against Griquas at the weekend. Then, later as the game wore on, our discipline dropped down a bit and we started to find the going tough in the second half.
“So for us, it is important to, for the full 80 minutes, to begin like we did against Griquas, and just stick to that. We are chasing the full 80 minutes this weekend against the Lions.
“We have heard that there’s a possibility that they may use some of those guys this weekend. You cannot take the Lions lightly – they are a team that we saw last week, they almost beat the Cheetahs (losing 35-26). It was just the discipline that cost them in the last few minutes of the second half.
“So, we must just prepare for a tough game, and you can never know what might happen.”