PRETORIA – Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard will lead the Bulls into battle against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires after regular captain Burger Odendaal joined the growing list of casualties at Loftus Versfeld.
Odendaal (rib injury), is the third Bulls player to be crocked this week after the double blow of losing Springbok lock Lood de Jager and prop Lizo Gqoboka.
The absence of Odendaal, Gqoboka and De Jager has also forced Bulls coach John Mitchell into making some changes to his team with Pollard likely to start at inside centre while Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane looks to move from tighthead to loosehead prop and Jason Jenkins is likely to return to lock from flank.
Mitchell admitted that losing De Jager and Gqoboka particularly was a big blow but believes that it is an opportunity to test the depth in the team which is a prerequisite for any team that has ambitions of doing well in Super Rugby.
“You never want to see a teammate suffer, but unfortunately it is part of the trade. At the end of the day you are tested in this competition by your depth so you can’t just rely on top players being available all the time.
While you feel for your teammate, you've got to get on and now it is someone else’s chance to contribute to the team. It will come down to how everyone has contributed and now there are new players to be given chances to contribute to the team,” said Mitchell.
Furthermore, Mitchell confirmed that he would not be looking to bring in reinforcements from outside to help alleviate their shortage of loosehead props with Gqoboka injured and Pierre Schoeman still suspended - instead they will look to their younger props and giving them an opportunity to play Super Rugby.
While Nyakane’s temporary move back to his more favoured position of loosehead will be a strength for the Bulls as they face a strong scrummaging outfit in the Jaguares, the likes of Nqobisile Mxoli, Matthys Basson and Frans van Wyk will also get an opportunity to show their versatility as they have the ability to scrum down on either side of the set-piece.
Mitchell is also satisfied with the cover at lock, with utility forward Hendre Stassen serving as back-up in the second row and as an additional loose forward.
“We are looking at some people but at the end of the day I’m happy to maintain and continue with the development of the young players in the team. It is their time to contribute to the team and seize their opportunity in the same way Lizo (Gqoboka) took his opportunity after Pierre (Schoeman).
We’ve also been without Lood before and it creates a different focus and presents people like Jason (Jenkins) and RG to control the middle and Stassen who has already had the experience knows exactly what he is walking into,” Mitchell said.
As disruptive as the injuries have been to the men in blue, they will leave for Buenos Aires on Wednesday with the added burden of knowing that they have never won a game there while the Jaguares are on a high after a hugely successful tour of Australasia where they won all four of their matches.
It will also be of concern to the Bulls that Sanzaar has made a change to the referee from New Zealander Brendon Pickerill to Argentinean Federico Anselmi.
“They’ve been more consistent away than they have been at home. They are a team that don’t go away but they don’t seem to blow out teams as such.
“But they got their wins in their particular way. They are certainly confident and they tend to stick to the same things all the time. They scrum well and their lineouts are a good feature of theirs and they like moving it around and are very patient with the ball as well.”