Bulls hooking problem in limbo
Brenden Nel- SuperSport
Johannesburg - The Bulls are juggling their resources at hooker to such an extent that they may be caught short when the chips finally fall.
According to the supersport.com website, it is an open secret that there is much unhappiness at Loftus Versfeld at the moment since the news broke that the Bulls were chasing Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss to make a move to Pretoria.
All three their current hookers are unhappy, with coach Frans Ludeke and high performance manager Xander Janse van Rensburg struggling to put out the fires of discontent that are currently raging at the union.
Strauss told supersport.com on Wednesday that he hasn’t made a final decision yet, and therefore hasn’t put pen to paper.
It is expected he will move to Pretoria, although a last minute bid by the Cheetahs, along with a number of Bloemfontein businessmen to keep him in the Free State may well have some implications on the move.
But back in Pretoria Bandise Maku recently asked to be released, before the Strauss move became known, and was refused a release from his contract by the Bulls, even though they have only played the Springbok once off the bench this entire Super Rugby season.
The unhappiness extends to the fact that the Bulls have been relying on Callie Visagie overly, and have not utilised the squad system enough to rotate their players this year.
It has been one of the factors that has cost the Bulls their chance of qualifying for the playoffs, and may cost them one of the hookers as well.
Despite being dubbed as “the most mobile hooker in Super Rugby” by coach Ludeke, Bongi Mbonambi has started only once, and received a handful of minutes off the bench in every game where it is almost too late to make an impact.
The amount that Ludeke and his coaching staff have relied on Visagie - apparently because he can scrum well - has been heavily lopsided, and has hardly shown as the Bulls have given away no less than 35 scrum penalties this season.
Mbonambi has, according to SANZAR's official figures played 271 minutes in 13 appearances, meaning he has an average of 20 minutes per game (and that includes the 60 given to him in one start).
This past week was a perfect opportunity for the Bulls to play their two black hookers, but instead they decided to play Maku and bench Visagie, with Mbonambi dropping out of the 23 altogether without a reason given.
It is a tad ironic that it is in the same week that Mbonambi has been negotiating his contract and it came to light that he is likely to leave the Bulls.
And while Maku has been ignored all season, now suddenly he is allowed to start a game when the season is over bar the shouting. Add to this rumours that Visagie has also asked for a release from his contract is Strauss comes, which have been strongly denied by his agent, and it is obvious things aren’t all rosy at Loftus.
Ludeke explained that Mbonambi’s absence is more giving Maku a chance, than snubbing the young hooker, but it certainly will raise eyebrows.
“There are no final decisions on our hooker side, and the possibility of recruiting someone in. It is more about Bandi and him working hard and pressing for an opportunity. Bongi had his starts off the bench and against the Force, while Callie played the anchor role,” Ludeke said.
“It’s all about managing play. It is about the decision for Bandi to move here, and he is a quality player and though the season Callie and Bongi just played well enough. There weren’t opportunities for Bandi and in the Currie Cup we will see more of a rotation of the hookers as well. We have three quality hookers there.”
Much of what will happen will be determined by Strauss’ decision, which is expected after the season officially ends this weekend. But in trying to juggle their resources and failing to put faith in their reserves, the Bulls have created a bad situation.
And should Strauss not sign, they could be left without Mbonambi as well.