Embrose Papier in action for the Junior Springboks last year. Bulls coach John Mitchell has great faith in the flyhalf. Photo: BackpagePix

It may be one of the forgotten breeding grounds of South African rugby which has produced Springbok and Bulls legend Victor Matfield, but Polokwane will take centre stage in unveiling new stars when the Bulls take on the Sharks in a Super Rugby preseason friendly at the Peter Mokaba Stadium today (6pm).

And as far as warm-up matches go, both the Bulls and Sharks have spared almost nothing in revealing who the players will be that start for their teams in the revamped strength versus strength competition after the axing of the Cheetahs, Southern Kings and Western Force.

It is Sharks coach Robert du Preez who has revealed his hand at this early stage off the year by selecting two of his strongest teams that will feature in each half of the game while Bulls mentor and former All Blacks coach John Mitchell has filled his side with some potential starters and fringe players.

This exercise in the most northerly city of the country may have all the aesthetic look and feel of a friendly but it will be the first blow out that both sides will have to showcase what it is that they have been busy with in the pre-season.

As much as the focus has been on conditioning and the much talked about and needed skill sets among South African players, there can be no denying the importance of battle readiness that Du Preez and Mitchell will seek ahead of the demands of the highly contested Super Rugby competition.

Therefore it will come as no surprise that much of the spotlight will be on many of the Bulls players who are yet to make an indelible mark in the team after the failings of the side in the past few seasons.

Mitchell has made it known that none of his Springboks and Japan-based players will be involved in any of their pre-season friendlies against the Sharks, Lions, Stormers and Jaguares with their likely hit out being the in-house match at Loftus Versfeld.

The rationale behind wrapping in cotton wool the likes of Handré Pollard, Jesse Kriel, Lood de Jager, Warrick Gelant, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins and Nic de Jager is the need for them to get up to speed with what the rest of the squad has been working on.

The absence of some of the Bulls frontline players will open the door for a few of the youngsters to stake their claim in the side..

There has been a lot of talk around Junior Springbok flyhalf Embrose Papier who has been thrust into the spotlight ahead of Springbok Rudy Paige while Manie Libbok is another prodigy at No 10.

And there is also the return to action of former Springbok and Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss after taking a sabbatical during the domestic season while second rowers Ruben van Heerden and Aston Fortuin will be eager to prove that they are ready to make the step up to Super Rugby.

Mitchell has also loaded his bench with some previous Super Rugby starters and most notably will be the return to action from long injury lay-offs of Springbok wing Jamba Ulengo and Springbok tourist Roelof Smit.

The Sharks are using this opportunity to the full with a plethora of Springboks in both their teams including new recruit and speedster Makazole Mapimpi. “I'd like to see that the stuff we’ve worked hard on is shown in the games. A big focus is on scoring more tries in Super Rugby and we want to see that," says Du Preez.. "I'm not too concerned about the results of the warm-up games, but I want to gauge how far we are in terms of conditioning.”


Saturday Star

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