Cape Town - It was already a long shot, but can the Bulls do the unthinkable and knock over the Stormers without talismanic captain Marcell Coetzee?
The Pretoria side were rocked by the bad news Thursday that their star loose forward will not be able to run out at the Cape Town Stadium in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship quarter-final (3.30pm kickoff).
The Bulls confirmed to Independent Media that Coetzee was ruled to be ineligible to feature against the Stormers after arriving in the capital city from Japanese club Kobe Steelers.
URC organisers rejected the Bulls’ application for a special dispensation to allow Coetzee to play, as he needed to be registered for the competition by March 30.
That is despite the fact that the Springbok flank had already participated in seven matches before leaving last November for his sabbatical in the Far East.
Bulls coach Jake White said last week that he was hoping to involve Coetzee in some capacity, even as a starter and captain against the Stormers, but now he won’t be able to include the No 6 when he announces his match-23 on Friday.
While Coetzee has been away for over six months, his leadership and high work-rate would have come in handy against the marauding Stormers loose trio of Deon Fourie, Hacjivah Dayimani and Evan Roos.
But while the Bulls tried everything to get his clearance, Coetzee will have to be satisfied with being the skipper of the Currie Cup team that will take on the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld tomorrow (5.30pm kickoff).
So, White and his team have to move on and find a different solution to foil the Stormers’ all-out attacking style, while also taking the fight to the home side with ball-in-hand themselves.
That is where Coetzee’s carrying and offloading skills would have been particularly effective, but he won’t be in Cape Town tomorrow and cannot play in the URC for the rest of the season.
There are a number of options White could utilise, though.
He spoke recently about the Stormers’ speed among their loose forwards, which suggests that he might fire with fire with the Bulls combination.
White was impressed by youngster WJ Steenkamp’s pace across the ground in recent weeks, but he is better suited to No 8, where Elrigh Louw is entrenched.
Louw, though, first made his name at blindside flank, and that could be a better mix on attack, where Cyle Brink would bring physicality, but lacks a bit of speed.
Marco van Staden is a specialist openside flank and usually contests the ball at the breakdown, but doesn’t have the necessary finesse and power going forward.
Someone like Nizaam Carr has those skills in his make-up, although he has missed the last few games as he was busy completing concussion protocols and may not be 100 percent ready.
Lock Ruan Nortjé’s captaincy will again be severely tested in the Cape Town Stadium cauldron as the Bulls look to end a five-match URC losing streak against the Stormers.
This is the time for White to come up with a totally fresh strategy and line-up, and hope that his players can respond to the challenge.