Blue Bulls director of rugby John Mitchell is getting ready for the season ahead. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Bulls head coach John Mitchell has made it no secret that nobody owns a jersey in the team.

That was evident this week when Springbok scrumhalf Rudy Paige was culled from the Bulls’ Super Rugby squad with Mitchell declaring his faith in the younger halfback pairing of Junior Springboks scrumhalf Embrose Papier and flyhalf Manie Libbok.

And so the spotlight will be on the two immensely talented youngsters when the Bulls host the Sharks in a pre-season friendly at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on Saturday (6pm).

While Libbok has already had a taste of senior rugby under Mitchell last year in the Currie Cup, it is Papier who will undergo the biggest test of his fledgling career.

The 20-year-old has all the attributes Mitchell is looking for this season and beyond, from a crisp pass to a terrier-like physicality that often sees the former Hoërskool Garsfontein pupil on the try-scorers’ sheet.

Even though Papier comes in 10 centimetres shorter great Bulls scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and even shorter than another legendary Springbok and Bulls scrumhalf in the late Joost van der Westhuizen, Papier possesses the tricks of the trade to make him a worthy successor to that pair.

But before making unwarranted and pressure-inducing comparisons between Papier and bygone legends, it is important to note that Mitchell believes Papier can become a world class number nine and it will be crucial to hand him opportunities in this year’s Super Rugby to achieve his potential.

Papier’s sharpness and quick service off the base of the scrum and ruck seemingly suit the Bulls’ new approach under Mitchell and it is what has seen the former All Blacks boss take a liking to the young man born in Clanwilliam in the Western Cape.

“I like a very fast number nine and certainly all the nines we have selected have the ability. Ambrose 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.”

But Papier still has a lot to learn and with no experience of playing senior rugby, especially the demanding Super Rugby, he will have to call on all of his experiences and exploits of having played two years for the SA Schools side and for the Junior Springboks.

Having already played with the equally talented Libbok at international level with the Junior Springboks at last year’s World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Georgia, Papier will find comfort in a familiar face and voice in close proximity.

At the end of the day, Papier and Libbok have a golden opportunity to challenge for starting berths in the Bulls team during these pre-season friendlies.

And while Libbok has to bide his time behind Springbok flyhalves Handre Pollard and Marnitz Boshoff, it is Papier who has the golden opportunity to make the number nine jersey his own and play himself into Bulls and Loftus Versfeld folklore.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have also named a second team to be captained by former Springbok Sevens star Boom Prinsloo that will play in a warm-up match against the Lions at Ellis Park also on Saturday.

The second string side boasts of a few players with Super Rugby experience with Ulrich Beyers, Dries Swanepoel, Tony Jantjies, Shaun Adendorff, Abongile Nonkontwana and hooker Edgar Marutlulle.

Bulls team to play Sharks in Polokwane: Divan Rossouw, Travis Ismaiel, Johnny Kotze, Burger Odendaal (capt), Jade Stighling, Manie Libbok, Embrose Papier, Hanro Liebenberg, Thembelani Bholi, Marco van Staden, Aston Fortuin, Ruben van Heerden, Frans van Wyk, Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman, Conraad van Vuuren, Eli Snyman, Jano Venter, Roelof Smit, Andre Warner, Marnitz Boshoff, Franco Naude, Jamba Ulengo, Duncan Matthews.

Bulls team to play Lions at Ellis Park: Ulrich Beyers, Irvin Ali, Dries Swanepoel, Heino Bezuidenhout, Andell Loubser, Tony Jantjies, Ginter Smuts, Boom Prinsloo (capt), Rickert Korff, Shaun Adendorff, Abongile Nonkontwana, Ewan Coetzee, Matthys Basson, Edgar Marutlulle, Dewald Maritz. Replacements: Nqoba Mxoli, John-Roy Jenkinson, Simphiwe Matanzima, Thomas Meyer, Pieter Diergaardt, Adre Smit, Oderich Mouton, Vaughen Isaacs, Lian du Toit, Garrick Matthews, Jerome Bossr, Christiaan Strydom, Earll Douwrie, Gareth Heidtmann.

The Star

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