CAPE TOWN - The time has come for the Bulls to roll out their big guns once more.
With most of their Springboks having been wrapped up in cotton wool during the pre-Easter preparation series, coach Jake White will hope to be able to call on most of the team that clinched the Currie Cup title for Saturday’s Rainbow Cup opener against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld (4pm kick-off).
Top of that list is captain Duane Vermeulen. Since lifting the Currie Cup trophy on January 30, the Springbok No 8 has finally been able to spend some time at home in the Cape with his family.
He also used that period to ‘clean out’ his knee, which meant that he didn’t feature in the preparation matches at all – not that he needed to anyway.
The eight weeks on the sidelines hasn’t been all fun and games, with Vermeulen’s Instagram posts showcasing some drills on his wattbike and rehabilitation sessions with Springbok physiotherapist Rene Naylor.
But White will be glad to see his skipper on the pitch again.
Veteran flyhalf Morné Steyn didn’t get much game time in the warm-up matches either.
And with reports that he was part of the Bulls contingent that attended one of the recent Springbok alignment camps, the 36-year-old will be keen to get going again to stake a claim for a remarkable Test recall for the British and Irish Lions series.
He was in superb form last season, and with Handre Pollard having sustained a serious knee injury in France that has kept him off the field for months, Bok coach
Jacques Nienaber could do worse than rope in Steyn if required.
New signing Johan Goosen will only join the Bulls on July 1 from French side Montpellier.
White will be glad that the likes of Elrigh Louw and Arno Botha are fit again to bolster the loose-forward ranks following recent injuries.
But there are some issues at lock, where Walt Steenkamp is still not ready to play after sustaining heart rhythm irregularities after contracting Covid-19 a few months ago.
Bulls team doctor Herman Rossouw said in March that the former Cheetahs stalwart was doing well with his recovery, though, and would see a specialist again this month before returning to training in May.
His former Cheetahs teammate Sintu Manjezi picked up an unfortunate knee injury in the
Currie Cup final that will keep him out for between six and eight months, so Ruan Nortjé and Jan Uys are the only experienced secondrowers in the squad.
White has some problems in the backline as well, where wing KurtLee Arendse has joined the Blitzboks for the Tokyo Olympics, although the coach will hope Stravino Jacobs is over his broken finger.
First-choice No 13 Stedman Gans was scheduled to be out for another month with an ankle injury as well, and while White was rumoured to have tried to sign Bok Juan de Jongh, the midfielder is still contracted to Wasps until the end of June, he is likely to return to the Stormers.
Utility back Marco Jansen van Vuren, who impressed White at outside centre in the Currie Cup, is the probable favourite to partner Cornal Hendricks in midfield on Saturday.