What is the best Bulls backline against WP?
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CAPE TOWN - THE embarrassment of player riches that the Bulls have acquired over the last few months must be the envy of all the other South African sides.
Coach Jake White, though, is not worried about the ‘salary cap’ jibes that are being thrown around on social media.
After experiencing the surprise defeat in the Rainbow Cup final against the unfancied Benetton in Treviso in June, the former Bok coach knows that he needs solid depth if his team are going to compete for the title in the upcoming United Rugby Championship.
The Bulls begin their campaign with one of the toughest fixtures possible – Irish giants Leinster in Dublin – on September 25, and White said last week that there will be a few more signings in the weeks to come in order to be well covered over a long season that will stretch into June next year.
The latest name linked with a move to Loftus Versfeld is veteran hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who recently returned from a lengthy stint in France at Montpellier.
But before the URC comes along, there is the no small matter of the Currie Cup title defence ahead for the Bulls, starting with Friday’s semi-final against Western Province at Loftus Versfeld (7pm kick-off).
While White will be delighted about having so many options, the backline in particular represents a bit of a head-scratcher in terms of selection this week.
The Bulls boss has mixed and matched his teams in the last few games, but who exactly will be his firstchoice centres, wings and scrumhalf?
The only definites at this stage for the WP clash are fullback David Kriel and flyhalf Johan Goosen. Another sure bet should be Cornal Hendricks at inside centre – although he has been used at wing as well on occasion during the Currie Cup.
Kurt-Lee Arendse’s unfortunate injury in the past weekend’s 39-36 victory against the Cheetahs makes him a doubtful starter on Friday. Arendse, who was wearing a scrum-cap, tried to charge-down a kick from Cheetahs fullback Cohen Jasper, but the ball struck him on the head, and he landed heavily on the back of his head as well, and was taken off on a stretcher.
That means White has the choice between Madosh Tambwe, Stravino Jacobs, new signing Ruan Combrinck and even younger Kriel brother Richard for the two wing berths.
Combrinck did well as an early replacement for Arendse against the Cheetahs, but Jacobs has been a regular over the last 12 months, and should partner Tambwe, who looks lively whenever he gets the ball and scored a try at the weekend.
The main call for White is probably at No 13. Stedman Gans was the incumbent last year and formed a superb partnership with Hendricks, but he was then out for three months with an ankle injury.
Gans was part of the Blitzboks’ Olympic campaign, and only returned to Pretoria a few weeks ago, where he has played at wing and centre, and missed out against the Cheetahs.
Former Lions stars Lionel Mapoe and Harold Vorster have done well in their few appearances since moving to Pretoria, with Mapoe especially prominent on Saturday.
But Gans and Hendricks know each other’s games inside-out, so Mapoe may be a good bench option.
At scrumhalf, Zak Burger has been regular since the departure of Ivan van Zyl to England, but youngster Keagan Johannes has caught the eye off the bench.
His long cut-out pass to Tambwe for a try against the Cheetahs showcased his class, and his slick service and pace around the fringes may offer the Bulls attack a bit more variety against a Province backline that will look to keep the ball alive.
Ashfak Mohamed’s Bulls backline
15 David Kriel,14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Keagan Johannes.