JJ a doubt for Sharks clash

    2015-02-23 20:07

    Brenden Nel, SuperSport

    Pretoria - There was a mixture of good and bad news for the Bulls ahead of their crucial Super Rugby clash against the Cell C Sharks this coming weekend.

    According to the website, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke would have been smiling about the news that three players returned from the injury list – key among them Springbok tighthead Marcel van der Merwe – ahead of the clash.

    But while the injury load was indeed lighter, and buoyed by the fact there were no serious injuries from the loss to the Hurricanes, the Bulls also received a bit of bad news on the recovery of a key player in William Small-Smith.

    The former SA under-20 captain was undergoing rehabilitation for an ankle capsule injury which was said to keep him out for two to three weeks.

    But on Monday at training a new problem was found with his ankle, which has worsened the prognosis and is likely to keep Small-Smith out for at least six weeks.

    It is a blow for the depth of the squad as they are already missing midfielder Burger Odendaal, who is out for another five weeks with a medial meniscal injury.

    To add insult to injury, midfielder JJ Engelbrecht took a blow to the bicep and missed training on Monday, and is only likely to return later this week for training, placing him in doubt for the Sharks match.

    But back to the good news for the Bulls – Van der Merwe is set to take his place in the again after injuring himself against Saracens in the pre-season and should bring much-needed stability to the Bulls front row, something that has been sorely lacking in recent weeks.

    The move of Van der Merwe back into the fold will mean that Trevor Nyakane can return to his more natural loosehead position and the Bulls are likely to go into the game with a front row that until recently was a Cheetahs front row – with Adriaan Strauss likely to pack down between the two burly props.

    There are down sides to this, one of them being that impressive young prop Dayan van der Westhuizen may well lose his place to accommodate Van der Merwe’s return, this after not getting onto the field from the bench in the previous two games.

    The Bulls may well move their impressive youngster Jesse Kriel into the midfield for the Sharks game, especially if Engelbrecht doesn’t make a quick enough recovery.

    Kriel has played in most positions in the backline and is the natural successor with Small-Smith and Odendaal out. The other two players who have returned from injury include Akona Ndungane and Travis Ismael, both wingers and the latter who was in fine form in the pre-season games.

    Ludeke may well decide to bring one of them into the side on the wing, with Francois Hougaard then likely to revert back to his scrumhalf spot.

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