Jaco van der Walt set to light up Bulls attack against his old team

Jaco van der Walt dives over the tryline for the Lions

File. Back in the day when Jaco van der Walt made his name at the Lions. Now the player will get the chance to put one over his old team as the Bulls take on their neighbours in the United Rugby Championship. Picture: Sapa

Published Feb 17, 2024


Jaco van der Walt first made his name at the Lions, and now he has received a major opportunity to prove his worth to the Bulls against his former team in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash at Ellis Park (3pm kick-off).

The 30-year-old got his big break on Friday when he was named at flyhalf ahead of Johan Goosen for the Gauteng derby, with coach Jake White making nine changes in total to the starting line-up from the one that began in the 30-28 Bulls win over the Lions in late January.

Van der Walt, who has two Test caps with Scotland, hasn’t had much of an opportunity to show what he’s about at the Bulls since moving from Edinburgh this season.

But with Goosen still not providing the consistency that his talent should, the former Springbok pivot was moved to the bench on Friday, with Van der Walt now donning the No 10 jersey.

All eyes on Sanele

The latter will have his hands full in trying to contain Lions playmaker Sanele Nohamba, who has been outstanding at flyhalf this season.

But Van der Walt has the skill-set to stamp his authority on proceedings, with an impressive passing game and good pace, as well as a smart kicking game, all key factors as the fourth-placed Bulls try to push closer to a home play-off spot.

His goal-kicking will also be under the microscope, but his familiarity with Ellis Park – having played for the Lions from 2014 to 2017 – will aid his quest to put points on the board for the visitors.

Van der Walt will also look to provide more of a physical presence in defence in the flyhalf channel than Goosen, but White will hope that he can get the star-studded backline firing out wide.

While Willie le Roux is on honeymoon following his wedding last weekend, the in-form Devon Williams will slot in at fullback, where he will have Springbok stars Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie for company.

Arendse and Moodie last played on December 23 in the defeat to the Stormers in Cape Town, and may be short of a gallop in their first match back in nearly two months.

But they are both top-class performers who have proven themselves at the highest level, so the inside backs such as Van der Walt, Embrose Papier and David Kriel must try to create the space for the Bok speedsters to attack.

It will be a titanic battle between the two sets of loose forwards, though, and whichever trio gets the edge will go a long way in determining the victors.

Quality depth

White has brought back bright young buck Cameron Hanekom at No 8 – with the dynamic Mpilo Gumede on the bench – with the powerhouse duo of Elrigh Louw and Marco van Staden at flank.

The Lions combo of No 8 Francke Horn, Ruan Venter and Hanru Sirgel also provide a heady mix of pace, power and finesse, and both packs of forwards will be searching for scrum dominance too – where the duel between Bulls Springbok Gerhard Steenekamp and Lions tighthead Asenathi Ntlabakanye will be one to savour.

“We are going to have to play well, almost our best rugby – like it’s Test rugby. The next two weekends (Lions and Stormers on March 2) are like trial runs for the big knockout games that are coming,” White said.

“Sometimes you need those kinds of games (close results) to give the group a wake-up call.

“We let slip 21 points (in the last Lions game), and there aren’t many teams you can give that amount of points and expect to win, so we will be better.

“The ironic thing is we play really well against them at their ground, which is probably better than most in the league.

“Who knows, this is probably the one game we need on the road. To be fair, we have a few guys who have played there, and this will be like a home game for them.”

Bulls Team: 15 Devon Williams 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse 13 Stedman Gans 12 David Kriel 11 Canan Moodie 10 Jaco van der Walt 9 Embrose Papier 8 Cameron Hanekom 7 Elrigh Louw 6 Marco van Staden 5 Ruan Nortjé (captain) 4 Reinhardt Ludwig 3 Mornay Smith 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.

Bench: 16 Akker van der Merwe 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Francois Klopper 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Marcell Coetzee 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Johan Goosen 23 Mpilo Gumede.