Who will get the nod? Jake White has some tricky backline calls
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CAPE TOWN - Now that the dust has settled on the Rainbow Cup SA’s immediate future, we can finally get to the actual rugby.
And for the Bulls, that means picking the best possible team to take on the Lions at Loftus Versfeld next weekend (date and kickoff time to be confirmed).
Coach Jake White will not be able to select the best XV, as there are a number of injuries that have ruled out certain players. Captain Duane Vermeulen is at the top of that list, which also includes Stedman Gans, Gio Aplon, Travis Ismaiel, Walt Steenkamp, Sintu Manjezi, Simphiwe Matanzima and possibly Trevor Nyakane.
The Springbok tighthead was ruled out of the initial Rainbow Cup game against the Lions scheduled for today with a rib issue, but said himself during the week that he would be back soon.
Team doctor Herman Rossouw also said that Nyakane would “in all likelihood” miss today’s Lions match, if it had taken place, but would not be out for too long. But there are a number of backline conundrums that White will have to ponder over this week. That starts right at scrumhalf, where Ivan van Zyl, Embrose Papier, Keagan Johannes and Zak Burger are competing for the No 9 jersey.
The first two are Springboks and are likely to feature in the match-23, but with the fact that Van Zyl is joining English club Saracens at the end of June, should Papier rather get the nod?
Morné Steyn is sure to wear the No 10, especially with the view to making his case stronger for a remarkable recall to the Springbok squad for the British and Irish Lions series, while Cornal Hendricks owns the inside centre berth as well.
For the rest of the back division, it’s a toss-up. Outside centre is the major headache for White. On the one hand, he has Marco Jansen van Vuren, who did well in the No 13 jersey as a replacement for Gans in the Currie Cup semi-final and final.
But the issue is complicated further by the absence of star wing Kurt-Lee Arendse, who is with the Blitzboks ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
With Ismaiel also not ready yet, there are vacancies at No 13 and No 14. Jansen van Vuren can play in both positions, as can Stravino Jacobs, who started at left wing in the Currie Cup final. White has said previously that he wants to try out Jacobs in the midfield as well going forward.
The only specialist outside centre with previous experience in the senior team is Marnus Potgieter, who was impressive during the Preparation Series. The former SA Under-20 No 13 could be the right option for the Lions game, with Jacobs and Jansen van Vuren on the wings.
Kriel brothers David and Richard are fighting it out for the fullback berth, and while the latter did well during the Preparation Series, David was the first-choice No 15 last season following Aplon’s injury and should be the favourite to face the Lions.