PRETORIA - While coach John Mitchell would have had a good idea on the make up of his Bulls starting team to face the Hurricanes in their Super Rugby season opener at Loftus Versfeld in two weeks’ time, a few individuals have planted a seed of doubt after stellar performances in the three pre-season friendlies against the Sharks, Stormers and Jaguares.
Mitchell will have to mull over a few selections with some fringe players again putting their hands up in a 21-12 win over the Jaguares at Loftus on Saturday.
In wet weather conditions and against a full strength Jaguares side littered with internationals, the likes of Marco van Staden, Thembelani Bholi, Ruben van Heerden, Embrose Papier and Manie Libbok played out of their skins to impress Mitchell and force their way into the reckoning.
But there was also enough that was done by most, if not all, of the Bulls' probable starters with Springboks Handre Pollard, Jesse Kriel and Warrick Gelant showing glimpses of how dangerous they can be on attack.
Springbok lock Lood de Jager led admirably from the front and the forwards were able to contain and at times dominate the Argentinians in the physical and set-piece battles.
Mitchell, though, seems to know what and who he wants to face the Hurricanes but is encouraged by the depth he is building and the value the fringe players will add during the course of the season.
“That’s the job I want. I want to have to make hard decisions but at the end of the day I clearly have a 23 in mind for the first week. We are going to need everyone because we are going to get knocks as well,” Mitchell said.
"The good thing about it is once you go through your pre-season and play all your best and give them all an equal opportunity to create a development programme that not only looks after this competition but also the future of the club."
And while the Bulls have made significant progress in the pre-season and making sure they tick all the right boxes, Mitchell is not entirely satisfied that all his charges are battle hardened enough.
Most of the players that still lack game time are the returning Springboks and Japan-based players but the plan is to give them all adequate playing time in next weekend’s internal trial match at Loftus.
“It’s gone to plan. But we haven’t finished yet. We don’t start the competition next week, we’ve got another trial. Hopefully by the time we get to competition we are ready to go because clearly one could see in the second half the second team needs more time on the field so they’ll get that next week as well,” added Mitchell.