Kurt-Lee Arendse can emulate ‘idol’ Gio Aplon, says Bulls coach Jake White
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CAPE TOWN - When Gio Aplon left South Africa, Cheslin Kolbe became the dancing king of local rugby.
Now that Kolbe is overseas, get set for a new pocket-rocket fullback: Kurt-Lee Arendse. That is what Jake White hopes to achieve with his selection of the former Blitzboks star at No 15 for the Bulls’ Currie Cup showdown against the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday (4.30pm kickoff).
White re-jigged his team on Thursday to have a look at different combinations ahead of the playoffs and next year’s PRO Rugby competition, with Arendse moving to the back and David Kriel shifting to right wing, and Marco Jansen van Vuren coming in on the left.
White explained that Kriel and Arendse could benefit from being versatile in both positions, like All Blacks such as Cory Jane, Israel Dagg and Jordie Barrett.
But when asked if the twinkle-toed Arendse – who hails from Paarl and first made his name for UWC in last year’s Varsity Cup – could have a similar impact as a counter-attacking fullback like Aplon and Kolbe, White concurred.
“That’s exactly how I see him. He actually says himself that his idol was Gio when he was young. He spends a lot of time with Gio – he’s unbelievable. I’ve seen him do things at training that have been phenomenal,” the former Bok coach said.
“I have no doubt that if we give him game after game, and opportunities, the way he’s finished already in some of the games, from nothing… So, I’m hoping that in the open space and he gets the ball with a little bit more time and space to actually beat people one-on-one, there is no reason why we can’t see the best of him.
“It will be an interesting game, and he will probably make mistakes, but it doesn’t matter. He’s going to learn, and get better and better. And if we can unearth another fullback in South Africa that can play like Gio Aplon and play like Cheslin Kolbe, jeez, it’s only good for us as a union.”
White is also not concerned that the 24-year-old could be caught out by his kicking game. “We’ve only played David at fullback, and I’d like to see what Kurt-Lee does at fullback if he’s got some space. Kicks with both feet, so I’m quite excited to see how he adapts to playing in the fullback position,” he said.
“Kurt-Lee is unbelievable in open space, unbelievable feet. He kicks with both feet, so it’s not like he is going to be cornered with one foot. I’m quite keen to see how he adapts to that. And as a person, he is still relatively new in the group, but he is growing and growing – he’s talking a bit more, he’s feeling a lot more confident.
“It’s an exciting time. There are not many fullbacks putting their hands up in South Africa, and if you can play wing and fullback, I’m sure he gives himself a good chance to one day play for the Springboks.”
Kriel initially featured at left wing this season, with Aplon at fullback before the latter was injured, so the Grey College product shouldn’t have too much hassle at No 11 on Saturday.
But the Cheetahs clash presents Jansen van Vuren with a major opportunity to prove himself out wide, having been remodelled from scrumhalf by White this year.
“He’s got really good attributes – good hands, good feet, he’s got a left foot. He’s really quick and physical, and as I said to him, a guy like Austin Healy played wing for England and scrumhalf for Leicester.
“There’s a couple of things we can try – move the ball to the edge and move it quickly away with him as he is a halfback, so that the halfback doesn’t have to run all the way to the edge of the field,” White said about the 24-year-old, who is 1.85m and 91kg.
“Those are the things you can bring in if you want to put some pace on the game when you get to the edge. He’s all-round skills are really good, as you saw on the weekend (against Western Province) – catching that high ball from a cross-kick, and scoring that try.
“So, I’m quite excited. I need his left foot, as I think it will help Kurt-Lee to have a left-footed kicker on that side of the field as well.
“We will look and see, but who knows – maybe he can go back to nine next year in the PRO Rugby because he is a big, strong player, and if it’s raining and we are playing in Ireland or Scotland, maybe he can still play nine.”