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Stormers virus now hits Bulls
Cape Town – Can the Bulls filter in some new faces as
seamlessly as great rivals the Stormers have managed to in the past few weeks?GALLERY: Past weekend in pictures
It is an issue that could have a bearing on their success
rate for the remainder of their travels abroad, which are about to get a whole
These two South African teams continue to ride high on both
the overall Super Rugby table and the domestic conference, but suddenly –
entering week 12 of the punishing competition -- the disruption bogey is
starting to plague the Bulls to almost the extent it has affected the Cape
Currently preparing for their second of four Australasian
tour fixtures against the Waratahs in Sydney on Friday after an unexpectedly
rollercoaster win against the Rebels, the men from Pretoria had been fielding
generally blissfully settled starting combos ... until now.
Injuries and other circumstances mean that at least three
enforced changes will almost certainly be required to the Bulls XV for the
challenge of a ‘Tahs team no doubt smarting from a derby thumping at the hands
of Jake White’s buoyant Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday.
As reported on Sunday, staple 2012 presences in the Nos 1, 7
and 12 jerseys – respectively Dean Greyling, Jacques Potgieter and Wynand
Olivier – will not be available at Sydney Football Stadium, though Springbok
inside centre Olivier is considered a long-shot prospect to recover in time
from a rib problem.
Big, ball-carrying loosehead prop Greyling is returning to
South Africa briefly for the birth of his first child, while uncompromising
blindside flank Potgieter becomes one of the first Bulls players to suffer a
similar fate to a Schalk Burger or Duane Vermeulen down south – many weeks on
the sidelines after his kneecap mishap in Melbourne.
He will probably only return after the three-week recess in
June for Test activity.
On the “fringe” front, meanwhile, reserve prop Frik Kirsten
has suffered a hand fracture that will see him out of action for some six
weeks, putting further strain on the Bulls’ broader squad resources.
Potgieter’s injury is especially inconvenient when you
consider that Bok-capped namesake Dewald has had a truly jinxed season thus far
and is not ready yet for a return to the fray – he would have shaped up as a
near-perfect direct replacement.
On the brighter side, fetcher Deon Stegmann finally has the
green light after a lingering hamstring injury so he may be whisked straight into
the run-on team on Friday, potentially freeing up CJ Stander, who has been
admirable in the slightly unfamiliar role of open-sider, to be even more
effective on the other side of the scrum.
There are also still the claims of Arno Botha to consider:
with apologies for dwelling on Stormers comparisons this year, he is showing very
similar energy and dynamism to Nizaam Carr in bursts off the bench.
Given a first start against the Force in Perth two weekends
ago, Carr excelled in the comfortable Stormers victory – is Nylstroom High
product Botha, 20, just about ready to do the same thing for the Bulls if
granted the opportunity?
Carr may have recently beaten Botha to his 21st
birthday, but both were representatives of the SA under-20 squad at the 2011
IRB Junior World Championship and symbols of South Africa’s never-ending
reputation as a “loosie factory”.
The likelihood that Olivier, who only a few days ago was
talked up by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer for his efforts this season, will
miss the assignment against the Waratahs is probably more of a concern to the
Bulls’ brains trust at this stage.
After all, they are trying to find solutions to their
leaky-defence problem of late and, in his capacity as inside centre, the blond
midfielder is an essential “organiser” in the tackling department and a
relative veteran who knows their intended systems well.
His experience has been important alongside JJ Engelbrecht,
who is very much learning the ropes at No 13 after being converted recently
from wing – the latter, if he stays there in Sydney, probably has to get
acquainted quickly to a new partner in Francois Venter or former Newlands-based
team-mate Johann Sadie.
On the broader South African front, week 11 was a productive
one in log-points terms for all three realistic local candidates for the
six-team playoffs phase.
The Stormers gratefully banked their four bye-weekend
points, whilst both the Bulls and Sharks earned wins against overseas opponents
despite plenty of imperfections in both teams’ performances.
Perhaps one should be cautious in hyping up a team with a
“win, lose, win, lose” habit like the Sharks have, but the truth is that the
Durbanites are right back in the hunt to crack the finals series nod.
Beating the useful Highlanders on Saturday was a bit of an
eight-pointer for Keegan Daniel and company, in some senses, because they
knocked over the very team now placed just one slot ahead of them in sixth, and
only three points superior.
The injury-hit side from Otago now take the long haul home
to entertain the Hurricanes in a tricky New Zealand derby this weekend, while
the Sharks – revelling in the grunt Tendai Mtawarira has helped restore to
their scrum -- really should be fancied to beat the modest Force at Mr Price
So they could vault into a playoff spot far quicker than
some people might have anticipated, never mind that they strangely continue to
mix the classy with the rank clumsy ...
This week’s fixtures
(all times SA):
Friday: Blues v
Lions, Auckland 09:35; Waratahs v Bulls, Sydney 11:40. Saturday: Highlanders v Hurricanes, Dunedin 09:35; Rebels v
Crusaders, Melbourne 11:40; Sharks v Force, Durban 17:05; Stormers v Cheetahs,
Cape Town 19:10. Sunday: Reds v
Chiefs, Brisbane 08:10. Bye:
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing