Johannesburg - Vodacom Bulls coach Nollis Marais is set to have a selection headache in the midfield this season after the performance of Burger Odendaal in his team's 28-24 win over the Emirates Lions in Polokwane on Saturday.
According to SuperSport.com Odendaal upped the pace as he came onto the field and was devastating on attack, scoring a try and cutting the Lions defence with a beautiful step in the last minute to set up the try for Jamba Ulengo to steal the win after the hooter.
The powerful midfielder has already impressed in the Currie Cup and it is expected he will press hard this season for a starting place, going head to head with Springbok Jan Serfontein for the 12 position.
The Bulls started with Serfontein and fellow Bok Jesse Kriel on Saturday, and both looked a bit rusty, with Serfontein moving to 13 when Odendaal made his appearance.
Given the Bulls lost the services of William Small-Smith in the off season and have Jesse's brother Dan as well as Dries Swanepoel in reserve if they need them, the Bulls midfield stocks are currently overflowing ahead of a tough Vodacom Super Rugby season.
Coach Nollis Marais was clearly impressed by Odendaal's cameo in the second half, and said he looked forward to Odendaal putting a lot of pressure on Kriel and Serfontein during the season.
Kriel is set to be used exclusively at 13 this year, barring injuries, with Warrick Gelant set for a long term run in the 15 jersey.
"Burger is a class act on his own, he showed why he will give Jan and Jesse a lot of trouble during the season," Marais said.
"He’s a very talented rugby player and I’ve known all along he will give them trouble, by putting pressure on them all season."
Marais didn't want to pronounce badly on his starting duo, but acknowledged they needed to shake off the rust ahead of the season.
"They weren’t too bad, Jesse is a bit rusted, and has only been in training with us for about a week and a half. He came back from Japan and he needs to find his feet, sometimes he is too flat. Jesse is a great player but there is a bit of rustiness that we have to get rid of."
One of the biggest winners of the game was young Jade Stighling, the 85kg winger is considered a major outsider in the current squad but put in a good display in both pre-season games, overshadowing his more favoured teammates.
On Saturday in Polokwane, Stighling took an exceptional inside pass to set up Burger Odendaal's try, and was involved in other plays as well that looked impressive.
It has left Marais smiling with another option outside Bjorn Basson, Jamba Ulengo and Travis Ismael to call on.
"The thing about Jade is – I always say to the players: when you get an opportunity, use it. Last week we weren’t good in Harare but the one guy who stood out was Jade," Marais said.
"I said to him we are going to take you with this weekend against the Lions and again he proved he is an excellent rugby player. That is what I want, someone who shows he wants to play. That Is the difference, the guys who came off the bench made the difference, especially against the Lions, who are a very good side."
Stighling is unlikely to make the match 23 for the opening game though, but if he keeps on knocking, he may well force a rethink in terms of selection.
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