Cape Town - New Blue Bulls coach Edgar Marutlulle has opted for a mixture of grizzled veterans such as Morné Steyn and fresh faces like Phumzile Maqondwana for Sunday’s Currie Cup clash against the Pumas at Loftus Versfeld (1pm kickoff).
The 35-year-old Marutlulle was unveiled as the Bulls coach for the provincial competition by director of rugby Jake White at Loftus yesterday, and the former hooker is thrilled with the opportunity to progress with the next stage of his rugby career.
“We are extremely proud of the work Edgar has put into his coaching, up-skilling himself and investing a lot of time into becoming one of the leading young minds in rugby. To grow the sport in our environment, we need to retain the services of top-class coaches and he is one of those that we have here at Loftus,” White said.
“He brings with him a wealth of experience and understanding of our systems and understands what it takes to win having led the junior teams to victories, and has had the opportunity to be part of the Currie Cup set-up before.
“This dynamic experience that he has as a player and now coach will be invaluable to the side during this campaign.”
Marutlulle will be assisted by former Sharks boss Sean Everitt (defence and breakdown), Gert Smal (forwards) and Hugo van As (backline and attack).
He hasn’t officially retired from playing as yet, but started coaching the Bulls Under-19 side a few years ago while recovering from a long-term Achilles injury and has decided to continue on that path.
He was adamant that he will stick to the Bulls’ mixture of a physical and attacking mindset, but would bring his own unique skills to the team.
“I have been a head coach in the Bulls junior structures before, so this is a progression of that. At the Bulls, we try to keep things aligned, and that’s how we’ve done it during the last five years that I’ve been at the Bulls,” Marutlulle said yesterday.
“We try to keep the system very similar in how we play to make sure that there is progression for players and staff – that the language stays the same, the style of play and the emphasis.
“We add our own flavour within that. As a hooker, I enjoy the scrum, maul and also attack generally. We are really excited to see that the emphasis might be in a different place, but the style is still uniformly Blue Bulls rugby.”
In terms of the team selected to take on the defending champions, Steyn will captain the side from flyhalf, and he will have another stalwart in Lionel Mapoe at outside centre.
There are a number of URC regulars such as Wandisile Simelane at fullback, David Kriel at inside centre and Bok Sbu Nkosi at left wing – with the latter set to return from the national team camp in Cape Town this weekend in time for the Pumas encounter.
The tight-five combination is also a strong one, featuring loosehead prop Gerhard Steenekamp and No 4 lock Jacques du Plessis, but there is some fresh blood in the loose trio in the shape of Mihlali Mosi, Reinhardt Ludwig and Maqondwana.
There are further experienced campaigners on the bench as well, such as props Lizo Gqoboka and Mornay Smith, flyhalf Chris Smith and utility back Cornal Hendricks.
The Mpumalanga side proved that they would be no pushovers after beating Griquas in the final in Kimberley last season, so having several URC players in the match-23 is vital for the Pretoria side.
“The URC is on a break for the next two weeks. Some of the players have gone to the Springbok alignment camp, so it has given us an opportunity to keep some of the URC players sharp,” Marutlulle said.
“It also doesn’t help that we just send the young guys to the wolves. It is definitely a balance in terms of experience and opportunity as well.”
Blue Bulls Team
15 Wandisile Simelane 14 Sibongile Novuka 13 Lionel Mapoe 12 David Kriel 11 Sbu Nkosi 10 Morné Steyn (captain) 9 Bernard van der Linde 8 Mihlali Mosi 7 Reinhardt Ludwig 6 Phumzile Maqondwana 5 Ruan Vermaak 4 Jacques du Plessis 3 Francois Klopper 2 Jan-Hendrik Wessels 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Bench: 16 Joe van Zyl 17 Lizo Gqoboka 18 Mornay Smith 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Cameron Hanekom 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Chris Smith 23 Cornal Hendricks.