Cape Town - It’s not always the case that a scrum battle is one of the highlights of a match, but the duel between Bulls tighthead prop Mornay Smith and Stormers loosehead Steven Kitshoff could go a long way to deciding the United Rugby Championship clash at Loftus Versfeld (5.05pm kickoff).
Smith makes his return to the Bulls side after sitting out the two Currie Cup wins over the Pumas and Western Province this past week, while Kitshoff also didn’t feature for WP against the Lions and Bulls.
The Bulls scrum came under fire in their last URC encounter against the Sharks in early December, where Smith was absent and Robert Hunt was heavily penalised by referee Jaco Peyper in the scrums, and the same fate befell replacement Lizo Gqoboka, who is normally a loosehead.
But White feels that his pack may have turned the corner in a dominant scrummaging display against WP on Wednesday, where Hunt and Simphiwe Matanzima earned a number of penalties from referee Marius van der Westhuizen.
However, he hopes that the Bulls won’t get on to the wrong side of Peyper’s whistle at Loftus today.
“The issues from the Sharks game are interesting, because we played the other night, and the same guys who had issues absolutely demolished the Western Province scrum. There were not the same sanctions that were given out to the Western Province scrum when they also probably repeated what we did against the Sharks,” White said yesterday.
“Saying that, that is why we’ve got guys like Werner (Kruger) and Edgar (Marutlulle) to work hard with those players, as we see now what a difference they make.
“I’m not too worried about where we are. We took a lot of confidence out of that game (against WP) – we got 10 scrum penalties with the front row that struggled against the Sharks. So, hopefully that was a turning point for us as a group.
“It doesn’t get tougher for Mornay, as Kitsie is someone who everyone rates as one of the best props in the world. But I’ve got to say that there is no Bongi (Mbonambi) and there is no Frans Malherbe – so it’s not the Springbok front row. There are changes to their front row, and they’ve got to make sure that they can adapt to those changes too, as we have.
“Jaco Peyper is the ref, and he was the guy who sent one of our players off for not being able to scrum, so it will be interesting to see how he adjudicates this, knowing that you’ve got two tightheads (Malherbe and Neethling Fouché) out.”
While White tweaked his backline from the Pumas game last week Friday by shifting Kurt-Lee Arendse back to wing and David Kriel to fullback, he made a big call to start 19-year-old Reinhardt Ludwig at blindside flank, which sees Elrigh Louw move to No 8, while Arno Botha starts at openside, with Marcell Coetzee on the bench.
White said that Ludwig is “really talented… and has got some good skills”, and that he wasn’t concerned about fielding such a youngster, as he referenced Schalk Burger as someone who was rated as one of the best in the world as a 21-year-old Springbok in 2004.
The Stormers’ best chance of pulling off an upset in Pretoria is with an all-out attacking approach, and they certainly have the firepower to do so, with Damian Willemse at fullback, Ruhan Nel at centre and Seabelo Senatla at left wing.
“If you look at that backline, there are a lot of sevens players in there, so you can imagine that they are not going to be scared to play,” White said about John Dobson’s Stormers.
“They’re going to want space and time, and they would be disappointed with their home result against the Lions, and want to get up the table. I’m expecting them to come here and back themselves to get a result.
“But saying that, it’s five ’o clock, 30 degrees, altitude, and all our players have played a game in the last week. So I hope all that preparation and cohesion that we’ve got will give us a bit of a start in the beginning.”
Teams For Loftus Versfeld
Bulls: 15 David Kriel 14 Madosh Tambwe 13 Lionel Mapoe 12 Cornal Hendricks (captain) 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse 10 Chris Smith 9 Embrose Papier 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Reinhardt Ludwig 6 Arno Botha 5 Ruan Nortje 4 Walt Steenkamp 3 Mornay Smith 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Bench: 16 Bismarck du Plessis 17 Lizo Gqoboka 18 Jacques van Rooyen 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Marcell Coetzee 21 Zak Burger 22 Morné Steyn 23 Harold Vorster.
Stormers: 15 Damian Willemse 14 Sergeal Petersen 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Rikus Pretorius 11 Seabelo Senatla 10 Manie Libbok 9 Herschel Jantjies 8 Evan Roos 7 Ernst van Rhyn 6 Deon Fourie 5 Marvin Orie 4 Salmaan Moerat (co-captain) 3 Sazi Sandi 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff (co-captain).
Bench: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter 17 Leon Lyons 18 Brok Harris 19 Adre Smith 20 Hacjivah Dayimani 21 Paul de Wet 22 Dan du Plessis 23 Warrick Gelant.