De Bruin’s team will face an equally weakened Bulls side at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon and includes no players who’re sure to start against the Sharks in the first game of the competition on February 17, also at Ellis Park.
These first choice players – Andries Coetzee, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Malcolm Marx and Co - will see no action at all until the match against the Sharks, except for a few internal contact sessions in training. While De Bruin admits it’s a bit of a gamble to be “underdone”, in his words, going into the Sharks clash, he’s more worried about player welfare over the course of the competition.
“The reality is several of my players haven’t had an off-season. They’ve been playing in Europe and Japan so it’s not as if they’re well rested, and what would it help me to play them in two or three warm-up games anyway,” said De Bruin.
“I know what I have in all my senior players; I’ve been involved with this team for over five years and I know what they’re capable of and how demanding this competition is. If the bulk of my team had last played in the Currie Cup, then I would have organised a few more games, but that is not the case.”
Among the players who’ve been in action around the world over November, December and this month are Mapoe, Janse van Rensburg, Jantjies, Whiteley, Mostert, Ferreira and Johannes Jonker.
“There are around 18 guys who I haven’t considered to face the Bulls in a warm-up this weekend; many of them needing a bit of a break,” said De Bruin.
“Some of the guys who’ve been playing overseas are already back, others only arrive next week, but we’ll be at full strength later next week and will do some contact sessions among ourselves.
“I’ll rather be underdone against the Sharks, but be fresh. This is a long competition and managing the players correctly will be crucial over so many weeks of rugby. Am I worried that many of my players haven’t had a proper off-season? Yes, of course it’s a concern, but this is a professional era and you have to deal with it.
“I’m going to get a good chance to have a look at some of our youngsters this weekend, and there are many of them who could get a look-in to be part of our final squad if they show me they’re ready for the big-time. This weekend is about trying to further build our depth, it’s not about winning the game. After all, what does it help if you win your warm-up game but lose in the competition proper?”
Among the players who’ll be looking to impress against a young Bulls team on Saturday are wings Madosh Tambwe and Aphiwe Dyantyi, who’re now the favourites to start in the match against the Sharks following the unavailability of regulars Ruan Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan, who’re injured.