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Bulls URC final profiles: Ruan Nortje, Walt Steenkamp are locked into opposition lineouts

Published Jun 17, 2022

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Cape Town - The Bulls were down and out after the first six matches of the United Rugby Championship, with just a single win in 2021.

But now they will take on the Stormers in Saturday’s final at Cape Town Stadium (7.30pm kickoff), and coach Jake White will be hoping that his team have one more big performance in them after beating Leinster 27-26 in Dublin.

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We are profiling the entire Bulls starting XV that have got them to the title decider and are likely to face the Stormers, and today we look at the locks…

No 5 lock: Ruan Nortje

The 23-year-old didn’t attend one of the big rugby schools in Pretoria (he was at Hoërskool Wonderboom) and he subsequently missed out on representing the Bulls Schools side.

But Nortje knuckled down and worked his way through the Bulls academy, and earned selection to the SA Under-20 side in 2018.

Since Jake White arrived at Loftus, though, Nortje has shot to the top. Despite his coach saying that he was a bit light for a lock, he has repaid the faith by progressing gradually as firstly a lineout expert as the Pretoria side won two successive Currie Cup titles in 2021.

But it is in the URC that Nortje has taken a massive leap forward. His work-rate is gigantic across the pitch, and he is so involved on attack that he is almost a Victor Matfield version 2.0 with the way he carries the ball and keeps up with the backs.

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That big engine sees him hitting rucks and making countless tackles as well, and he has added another bow to his lineout prowess – pinching opposition throw-ins all season long.

He dovetails superbly with second-row partner Walt Steenkamp, and his imperious form has seen him earn selection to the Springbok squad for the upcoming three-Test series against Wales.

Nortje will have a great chance to impress Bok coach Jacques Nienaber as he will go head-to-head with Stormers No 5 Marvin Orie, who started a few Tests last year and is also a lineout specialist.

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No 4 lock: Walt Steenkamp

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The Hoërskool Rustenburg product had to do the hard yards in the North West before making his name on the big stage.

Steenkamp slogged away for three years at the unfashionable Leopards, but he was eventually snapped up by the Cheetahs and moved to Bloemfontein in 2018.

The 26-year-old was able to perform a solid role as a No 5 lock mainly in the Currie Cup and the PRO14 competition in Europe – the precursor to the URC.

His hard-working style and lineout ability saw him pack his bags for Pretoria along with Cheetahs lock partner Sintu Manjezi, who was also signed by Jake White.

Steenkamp had to bide his time for regular starts at Loftus Versfeld, though, with Nortje gaining the inside lane for the No 5 jersey.

But Manjezi’s injury problems – and Jacques du Plessis having similar issues – created an opportunity for Steenkamp to fulfil the ‘tighthead’ lock role, and he has flourished in that regard.

In fact, with the URC demanding more athletic forwards, Steenkamp’s lean frame has contributed to the Bulls’ momentum on attack. He does play closer to the ball than he did at the Cheetahs, but he is a superb lineout jumper and has won a number of opposition throw-ins at crucial times.

That is where he can assist Nortje to put pressure on a Stormers lineout that has had its highs and lows this season, but he will need to watch out for those big hits from opposite number Salmaan Moerat.

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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