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.
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 front row…
Tighthead prop: Mornay Smith
Having come through a relatively small school in rugby terms, Hoërskool Eldoraigne in Centurion, Mornay Smith knows the long road to the top.
Despite not attending one of the leading Pretoria schools, Smith still made it into the Bulls Schools side in 2016, and before he knew it, he was part of the Bulls Super Rugby team in 2018.
He proved his worth as a dependable scrum exponent in the double Currie Cup success in 2021, but an untimely ankle injury earlier this season kept him on the sidelines for months.
That saw the Bulls battle to get any ascendancy in the scrums, and they had to convert veteran loosehead Jacques van Rooyen into a tighthead. After a few difficult encounters, Van Rooyen found his feet and did a solid job, but once he sustained an injury, Smith’s return came at just the right time for Jake White’s team.
Not the biggest No 3 at 1.81m and 109kg, the 24-year-old Smith has a strong technique and ensures the Bulls get front-foot ball to attack from. That will come in handy against one of the best in the business, Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff, in Saturday’s final.
Hooker: Johan Grobbelaar
He has the ultimate pedigree – Paarl Gym, Western Province Schools, SA Schools, the works. And his consistently quality performances showcases his upbringing.
Grobbelaar is a dynamic hooker whose skill-set goes far beyond just feeding the lineouts and hooking the ball in the scrums.
The 24-year-old is a superb ball-carrier who has a massive work-rate on attack and defence. He looks to keep the ball alive in contact, is always in support of the ball-carrier and he can clean out rucks too.
And of course, like any good hooker, he can score tries off the back of driving mauls.
But his big party trick is contesting the breakdowns and earning penalties. Grobbelaar was the Man of the Match for an energetic display against Leinster in Dublin last week, where he timed his ruck contests to perfection and won a number of penalties.
He puts in his fair share of tackles too, and has a point to prove to the Springbok selectors against the Stormers after missing out on the squad to face Wales next week.
Loosehead prop: Gerhard Steenekamp
Steenekamp is a giant for a prop at 1.94m and 128kg, and that’s because he started out as a No 8 at Potchefstroom Gym school. He has improved his scrumming ability significantly this season, and is now a rock-solid No 1 who doesn’t go backwards.
But he has previously spoken about his old loose forward days, and those skills are valuable as he is able to maintain continuity with ball-in-hand.
The 25-year-old front-rower does dish out the odd offload in the tackle now and then, but one of his main roles at the Bulls is to use his big frame and hit the rucks to clear out those pesky openside flanks.
One of his extra bows is to contest the breakdowns, and he has produced some vital turnovers at just the right times.