CAPE TOWN – The Bulls received a welcome boost on Monday ahead of their trip to Italy for the Rainbow Cup final after Springbok prop Lizo Gqoboka was passed fit to play.
Gqoboka has missed the last few weeks of the domestic competition due to an ankle injury sustained against the Lions in May, which may also have cost him a spot in the Springbok squad.
But now the 31-year-old is back at just the right time, considering the Bulls are missing a whole host of players for Saturday’s final against Benetton in Treviso (6.30pm kickoff).
Trevor Nyakane, Marco van Staden and Morné Steyn have joined the Bok camp in Bloemfontein, while regular captain Duane Vermeulen, Elrigh Louw, Embrose Papier and Arno Botha are all injured, and youngster Jan-Hendrik Wessels is part of a strong Bulls contingent in the SA Under-20 squad.
Apart from those that did duty in the 34-22 victory over the Sharks in Durban on Saturday night, the additional players include hooker Sidney Tobias, prop Robert Hunt, lock Jan Uys, loose forward WJ Steenkamp, scrumhalf Zak Burger, flyhalf Chris Smith and centre Dawid Kellerman.
The 28-man group announced by the Bulls on Monday will be led by loose forward Marcell Coetzee, and have been cleared to travel after undergoing Covid-19 tests on Sunday – they will have to endure another test upon arrival in Treviso after travelling via Amsterdam on Monday night.
With Steyn at the Boks, Smith is sure to take over at flyhalf, while Mornay Smith will continue at tighthead prop, with UCT Varsity Cup star Robert Hunt the other specialist tighthead in the squad. But coach Jake White could also include veteran loosehead Jacques van Rooyen as the back-up tighthead on the bench, with Gqoboka and Gerhard Steenkamp the two looseheads in the match-23.
With Van Staden not available, Coetzee could easily shift to No 6, with experienced Bok Nizaam Carr coming in at No 8.
White is expected to announce his match-day squad on Friday, and will hope that his team can add yet another piece of silverware to the trophy cabinet after winning the Super Rugby Unlocked and Currie Cup titles last season.
The Bulls will name a separate group later in the week for Saturday’s Currie Cup opener against Western Province at Loftus Versfeld (4pm kickoff).
Bulls Travelling Squad
Forwards: Lizo Gqoboka, Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Schalk Erasmus, Sidney Tobias, Jacques van Rooyen, Mornay Smith, Robert Hunt, Ruan Nortjé, Janko Swanepoel, Jan Uys, Walt Steenkamp, WJ Steenkamp, Muller Uys, Marcell Coetzee (captain), Nizaam Carr.
Backs: Ivan van Zyl, Zak Burger, Keagan Johannes, Chris Smith, Clinton Swart, Cornal Hendricks, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Stravino Jacobs, Madosh Tambwe, Dawid Kellerman, Gio Aplon, David Kriel.