Cape Town – The Blue Bulls may be missing their main spark in Embrose Papier, but coach Jake White has urged his team to “not go into their shells” in Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein (3pm kickoff).
The stage is set for a shoot-out at the Free State Stadium as the home side thrive on throwing the ball around and moving the heavy Bulls pack from side to side, as well as turning their forwards by using their kicking game to good effect.
White would have wanted to counter that strategy through Papier’s electric pace across the ground and his general game-breaking ability, but the Springbok halfback has been ruled out with a hamstring injury that he picked up in last weekend’s 31-27 loss to the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld.
But there is a highly capable replacement in the talented young Keagan Johannes, who plays a similar kind of style to Papier and can also ignite the Bulls attack with his speed and playmaking skills.
In addition, White opted for another creative force in Nizaam Carr at blindside flank, as he is well aware of the Cheetahs’ penchant to stretch the opposition defence with ball-in-hand.
“I just think Nizaam’s played really well. Just that combination (in the loose trio with Elrigh Louw and Marcell Coetzee) seems to be nice and balanced when he’s on the field as well,” the former Springbok coach said yesterday.
“I just felt this combination, with Nizaam as an attacking extra, is probably what we need this weekend. The Cheetahs are not scared to keep the ball as well, and Nizaam defensively and attacking-wise, he’s a threat.
“He gets around the field, has a great feel and great skills, and with Elrigh and Marcell, he is a great complement to the two of them.”
The fact that the hosts have selected three loose forwards and no lock on the bench is further indication that they will take the fight to the Bulls for the full 80 minutes.
So, if the Pretoria side want to have any chance of causing an upset over the log leaders, they will need the likes of centre Stedman Gans and fullback Johan Goosen to combine with Johannes, Carr and hooker Johan Grobbelaar in general play, as three-pointers from penalties won’t be enough.
“I’ve just watched a little bit of that Blues-Crusaders Super Rugby semi-final, and the Crusaders scored 50 points. And one thing that I’ve learnt – whether it’s the Crusaders, Brumbies, Leinster – when you want to win competitions, you’ve got to score points,” White said.
I don’t want us to go into our shells, says Jake White as Bulls aim to attack Cheetahs in Bloemfontein semi-final.— IOL Sport (@IOLsport) June 17, 2023
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“The reality is that we’re good enough to score points, and I don’t think you’re going into these games and go into your shell.
“So, a guy like Stedman – hopefully he will use those skills that he’s got and he’ll make a couple of line-breaks, and that will create a bit of momentum for us as well.
“I don’t want us to go into our shells. I want us to play our best rugby over the next two weekends, and that’s the only challenge we have: whether we can play our best rugby over the next two weekends.”
The Cheetahs were dealt an injury blow of their own yesterday as flyhalf Siya Masuku was sidelined with a calf problem, which sees the returning veteran Ruan Pienaar slot straight back into the No 10 jersey after missing last week’s Loftus game due to a family bereavement.
Pienaar has pulled the strings for the Free Staters in both halfback positions by making liberal use of his boot, but he has some exciting strike-runners in Tapiwa Mafura, Daniel Kasende and Cohen Jasper in the back-three who can add real width to the attack.
But while the Bulls last beat the Cheetahs in the 2021 season, they feel that they can pull off a victory this afternoon.
“I think we can take a lot out of that game (last week). We played with 14 men for 45 minutes (after Louw’s red card, which has been overturned to a yellow) and we still managed (to stay in the game), and we could’ve – all things being equal – scored at the end there in that last lineout to win the game,” White said.
“Players and coaches take a lot out of that… Some teams could’ve just disappeared and given up, and then we would’ve been out of the Currie Cup.
“We seem to play really well in patches, and then we played really poorly in patches. The 20 minutes (last week) were fantastic and it was a great start, but I don’t think we are always going to get those kinds of starts – maybe not in a semi-final either. I think we’ve just got to play as well as we can, and just focus on what we’ve got to do.”
Teams For Bloemfontein
Cheetahs: 15 Tapiwa Mafura 14 Daniel Kasende 13 David Brits 12 Reinhardt Fortuin 11 Cohen Jasper 10 Ruan Pienaar 9 Rewan Kruger 8 Friedle Olivier 7 Siba Qoma 6 Gideon van der Merwe 5 Victor Sekekete (captain) 4 Rynier Bernardo 3 Conraad van Vuuren 2 Marnus van der Merwe 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Bench: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen 17 Alulutho Tshakweni 18 Hencus van Wyk 19 Jeandré Rudolph 20 George Cronjé 21 Daniel Maartens 22 Evardi Boshoff 23 Robert Ebersohn.
Blue Bulls: 15 Johan Goosen 14 Cornal Hendricks 13 Stedman Gans 12 Harold Vorster 11 David Kriel 10 Chris Smith 9 Keagan Johannes 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Nizaam Carr 6 Marcell Coetzee (captain) 5 Ruan Nortjé 4 Ruan Vermaak 3 Mornay Smith 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Bench: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Francois Klopper 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 WJ Steenkamp 21 Bernard van der Linde 22 Sibongile Novuka 23 Wandisile Simelane.