JOHANNESBURG - Faced with the undesirable task of winning all three of their remaining matches if they want to stand a chance of making the Super Rugby play-offs, the Bulls have been rocked by an injury crisis at prop and amongst the loose forwards that could easily derail their campaign.
Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane is ruled out for at least the upcoming game against the Sunwolves in Singapore while Lizo Gqoboka (toe ligaments) and Frans van Wyk (ankle) will only return to the side ahead of next year’s preseason in November. While the men in blue will get some temporary reprieve with the return to action of Pierre Schoeman and Conraad van Vuuren who had both served three week suspensions for different offences, there is serious concern at how thin the Bulls stocks are in the frontrow.
At the same time, the Bulls are facing another crisis amongst the loose forwards after injuries to Roelof Smit and Marco van Staden had further compounded the loss of Tim Agaba and Hendre Stassen. Van Staden seems to have recovered rather quickly from a disturbing knee and ankle injury in the Bulls last game before the June international break, against the Brumbies, and is likely to partner with Thembelani Bholi and Nic de Jager but there is concern over the lack of match fitness of the reserves with Hanro Liebenberg and Jannes Kirsten recently returning from injury.
There was more bad news for the Bulls on Monday when captain and centre Burger Odendaal was ruled out after suffering a calf strain injury in Sunday’s match against the Golden Lions in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge and Springbok wing Travis Ismaiel is struggling with a niggle after returning from international duty. Bulls coach John Mitchell has been at pains to put together a team that will travel to Singapore and win comprehensively if they are to remain in play-off contention.
“From being a side that was right in contention to a side now that is decimated by injuries to the forwards. We are in a crisis situation with the props and we only have Pierre and Conraad standing. The loose forward area is also a crisis because we only have players returning from long term injury none of them are match fit as much as I would like them to be. We certainly have a big challenge in that area and for the rest of the competition,” said Mitchell.
As much as Mitchell and his team find themselves in a rather desperate situation, the former All Blacks mentor is still considering the health of his returning Springboks and is likely to rest some if not start them off the bench against the Sunwolves.
Mitchell is pleased at the honest shift his players put in at international level and was particularly satisfied to see how lock RG Snyman did, while scrumhalves Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier also got a taste of playing on the big stage. “It was good to see that some of the guys found their feet at Test level,” Mitchell said of his new Boks.