PRETORIA – As easy as it may be to predict which players will make up the Bulls team that will run out to face the Hurricanes in their opening Super Rugby game at Loftus Versfeld, Bulls boss John Mitchell is urging all of his troops to put up their hands and be ready to play.
And in an effort to get all of his players fit and ready, Mitchell is wasting no time in bringing back some of his big name players to participate in the two remaining warm-up matches against the Stormers and Jaguares.
Big Springbok lock Lood de Jager, pictured, and the impressive and fiery young lock RG Snyman will be unleashed against the Stormers not only to plug the glaring gaps in the line-outs but to also show their battle readiness as the jostling for positions also intensifies at Loftus.
De Jager is expected to be in Mitchell’s starting team against the Hurricanes along with Snyman and there will be no better time and opposition to test their combination than against an eager Stormers side that is in the final preparations of their pre-season.
The Bulls may be blessed with some incredible depth in the second row with Ruben van Heerden and Aston Fortuin having done a sterling job in last year’s Currie Cup, but their strength in the line-outs will come from the experience De Jager, Snyman and Jason Jenkins.
Mitchell has been very impressed with De Jager’s enthusiasm and willingness to learn and feels that the former Cheetahs captain will be crucial in running the line-outs and giving guidance to the younger locks in the side.
“He’s (De Jager) come in with great enthusiasm, he’s working hard, he is communicating effectively and I think he’s enjoying the learning environment that we create and the way we involve our players in the intelligence of our game. As the middle lock we’ll probably have to go 80 minutes and it is a critical calling position from a line-out point of view and he loves that kind of stuff,” Mitchell said at yesterday’s team announcement.
“We have to two young locks in Ruben and Aston who have come on extremely well in the Currie Cup and will acknowledge that they still have a lot to learn. But just think what they are going to be like in a year’s time ... We are going to need everyone. As I keep saying to guys who have perceptions about where they sit in terms of experience and playing is that just be ready because we are going to need everyone.”
Mitchell will also have his eyes on Springbok tourist Roelof Smit who will start at openside flank after coming off the bench in last weekend’s jaunt against the Sharks in Polokwane.
“We are on a different timeline to the other teams in the country because we don’t start the competition until the 24th. We are very mindful around developing 38 players rather than just focussing on potentially 23 that will be going into the first game. That is very much an important part of our plan,” said Mitchell.
“Last week we started with the young guys and brought closure to their minds about the level and intensity of this competition. This week we flip our starters and finishers and it happens that Roelof starts this week and the injury to Aston has allowed us to progress some of the more experienced locks into the team. As we move forward, we will be introducing more experienced players.”
Divan Rossouw, Andell Loubser, Johnny Kotze, Burger Odendaal (c), Duncan Matthews, Marnitz Boshoff, Andre Warner, Jano Venter, Hanro Liebenberg (v/c), Roelof Smit, RG Snyman, Ruben van Heerden, Conraad van Vuuren, Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka, Frans van Wyk, Lood de Jager, Marco van Staden, Thembelani Bholi, Embrose Papier, Manie Libbok, JT Jackson, Dries Swanepoel, Jade Stighling, Franco Naude.
Forwards: Jaco Coetzee, Jan de Klerk, Stephan de Wit, Johan du Toit, JC Janse van Rensberg, Steven Kitshoff, Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Salmaan Moerat, Carlu Sadie, Ramone Samuels, JD Schickerling, Chris van Zyl, Kobus van Dyk, Cobus Wiese. Backs: Craig Barry, Damian de Allende, Dewaldt Duvenage, Dan Kriel, Eduan Keyter, Dillyn Leyds, Justin Phillips, Sergeal Petersen, Raymond Rhule