PRETORIA – Springbok scrumhalf Rudy Paige is the big name missing from the Bulls Super Rugby squad for the upcoming season, along with centre Dries Swanepoel, flank Shaun Adendorff and flyhalf Tony Jantjies.
Paige recently had an operation to his groin, and is expected to return to action at the end of February and ahead of the Bulls’ tour to Australia and New Zealand.
The proverbial axe has been hanging over Paige since the middle of last year after the arrival of executive for rugby John Mitchell, and speculation had been rife that Paige was on his way out of the kraal at Loftus Versfeld and back to Ellis Park to rejoin the Lions.
However, Paige stayed and amid growing calls for more playing opportunities at international level.
But his omission from the Bulls Super Rugby campaign could bring about an abrupt end to his ambitions of becoming the Boks’ No 1 halfback.
Paige had been expected to be the front-runner to start at No 9 this season, especially with Piet van Zyl having left for a lucrative stint in England with London Irish – along with former Bok flank Arno Botha.
But it seems as though Ivan van Zyl, André Warner and Junior Springbok Embrose Papier will be left to battle it out for the prized jersey.
Mitchell didn’t mince his words in saying that he is looking to the future at scrumhalf, and is enthusiastic about the exploits of Papier and bringing him up to speed in Super Rugby.
“He’s been fantastic for the club and he has made it his life in recent years and has given a lot.
“But I thought that it was time to move forward with the young number nines. I like a very fast number nine, and certainly all the nines we have selected have the ability.
“Embrose Papier is up and coming and potentially a world-class scrumhalf – he’s demonstrated that in his age group and played international at Under-20.
“I just think it is time for him to start at Super Rugby level,” Mitchell said at the Bulls squad announcement at Loftus on Monday.
But Mitchell has not ruled out calling on Paige, Swanepoel, Adendorff, Jantjies and even new recruit Thembelani Bholi when the need arises, and that it was always going to be a difficult job selecting his final squad.
“When it comes to selecting the Super Rugby squad it takes time, this has taken a lot longer than I would like normally.
“It was important for me not to be hasty and make sure that I had enough information on players meeting standards.
“There will be a lot of players that will be third- or fourth-ranked in their positions, and we are going to need them to be ready at some point in the competition. So that positive person will be critical,” said Mitchell.
@IOLsport John Mitchell named 38 men Bulls Super Rugby squad. No Rudy Paige, Dries Swanepoel and Shaun Adendorff in the squad. Burger Odendaal and Nic de Jager named co-captains pic.twitter.com/rbPusBdDi5
The omission of Swanepoel and Adendorf, though, come as no surprise as the Bulls had an excess of loose forwards.
Mitchell preferred the likes of Bok tourist Roelof Smit, uncapped Hendré Stassen, Springbok Sevens player Tim Agaba and Hanro Liebenberg also getting the nod ahead of Adendorf.
Even though Swanepoel has a season of Super Rugby under his belt, it was not enough to convince Mitchell to add him to his team.
The New Zealander has rather gone for the untested but exciting JT Jackson in the midfield along with Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Francois Brummer and Johnny Kotze.
Mitchell has also changed the leadership in the team, opting to go with Odendaal and Nic de Jager as co-captains, with former captain Adriaan Strauss still in the team.
“I’m a big believer in sharing leadership and owning leadership.
“Burger and Nic are also supported by a leadership group, and we have many teams that look after the coach and the climate of the group,” Mitchell added.
Bulls Super Rugby Squad
Outside backs: Warrick Gelant, Duncan Matthews, Travis Ismaiel, Jamba Ulengo, Jade Stighling, Divan Rossouw
Midfielders: Burger Odendaal, JT Jackson, Francois Brummer, Jesse Kriel, Johnny Kotze
Flyhalves: Handré Pollard, Marnitz Boshoff, Manie Libbok
Halfbacks: Ivan van Zyl, Andre Warner, Embrose Papier
Loose forwards: Roelof Smit, Ruan Steenkamp, Hendre Stassen, Hanro Liebenberg, Jannes Kirsten, Nic de Jager, Tim Agaba
Locks: Jason Jenkins, Ruben van Heerden, RG Snyman, Lood de Jager, Aston Fortuin
Props: Pierre Schoeman, Conraad van Vuuren, Frans van Wyk, Matthys Basson, Lizo Gqoboka, Trevor Nyakane
Hookers: Jaco Visagie, Adriaan Strauss, Edgar Marutlulle