Brenden Nel - SuperSport.com
Pretoria - As the Bulls announced their team to face the Hurricanes there were two very interesting talking points – one about a player who has not made the grade (yet) and one who came in from nowhere.
Coach John Mitchell announced his side to face the Hurricanes on Saturday, notably excluding Springbok tighthead prop Trevor Nyakane, and including upstart newcomer Thembelani Bholi.
For Nyakane, the move to tighthead has essentially not worked, and Mitchell is on record as saying “6, 8, 10 and 12 minutes” as a tighthead in test rugby was hardly helping his development as a player.
So Nyakane is essentially being seen as a loosehead again, and at the moment that gives him problems in the Bulls set-up.
While a great versatile player on the bench, who has also been seen as a reserve hooker if the need arises, Nyakane is currently finding that in a field of specialists, versatility is not always the best option.
It isn’t a train smash for the Bok prop, but it is a wake-up call that he will need to heed if he is going to get some Super Rugby game time this year.
Standards have been set and in Nyakane’s case, at the moment, he simply doesn’t measure up to what Mitchell has set for him, hence no place in the starting 23.
At loosehead Pierre Schoeman and Lizo Gqoboka are fighting it out for a place while Frans van Wyk – not to be confused with the ex-Province prop Francois van Wyk – has impressed enough to make the tighthead spot his own.
Mitchell has been quite clear on pre-season form counting a lot, and in this case the former SA under-20 prop from Delareyville has made an impression, a significant one.
Van Wyk is seen as a future Springbok and is highly rated by the team’s coaching staff, so much so that he will start on Saturday at the tender age of 22, his biggest game since the Currie Cup final appearance for Western Province as a substitute.
Still, for Nyakane, the future is unclear at the moment and it very much depends how he handles the new challenge that has been set for him.
“The team has basically evolved through the pre-season but not all plans have come together and some athletes are still behind the timelines and they will be ready in time, but ultimately we’ve gone for the best mix for the way we have prepared and the athletes who have performed during the trial phase,” Mitchell said in announcing the team on Thursday.
“Trevor is not far away, but really it may be one week, two weeks, it really depends on what he does in the next two weeks. Clearly if there is an injury then it becomes a different plan, but he is going well. He is a player who plays both sides of the scrum and we have some healthy competition within the group. The other guys realise it comes down to what you do as opposed to what your past has presented.”
In the counter-balance to Nyakane’s absence, comes former Southern Kings flanker Thembelani Bholi, an upstart who was expected to slot into the reserve squad and quietly work his way into the Bulls set-up after a few months.
Instead, the hard-working, lively flanker has surprised even Mitchell and impressed with his play – especially in the pre-season against the Jaguares, taking the chance that has been offered to him.
Bholi’s form, coupled with a lack of minutes for co-captain Nick de Jager, means he gets a start when few would have predicted this, and is the Bulls wildcard against the Hurricanes.
Jannes Kirsten returns next week and Jason Jenkins is also earmarked for a seven starting spot at some point, so Bholi knows he needs to grab this opportunity.
“Firstly I think Burger would share my sentiments that he is enjoyed by his peers, mainly because he is very quiet about how he goes about things, he has eliminated some of the errors from his game in the trial phase. When he first started pre-season, for some guys coming to a new club could be quite nerve-wracking for them and clearly he wasn’t aligned to how we do things and it took him a while.
“But he has demonstrated some excellent work both on and off the field. He has leaned up enormously and the guys say he is pretty hard as well. I wouldn’t like to run into him and hopefully a few Hurricanes don’t like to run into him either.”
There aren't any other major suprises in the Bulls squad as they kept with the tried and trusted stalwarts that have all been there before.
But the bar has been set and in the first selection, another Springbok is missing. Some may find it strange, but in a side where form is being rewarded and reputations ignored, the Bulls have drawn a line in the sand.
It now waits to be seen just how successful that strategy will be in an unforgiving competition against the toughest of opposition.
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans van Wyk, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre SchoemanSubstitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Nic de Jager, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Divan Rossouw
15 Matt Proctor, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Ihaia West, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Ricctelli, 1 Toby Smith
Substitutes: 16 James O'Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ben Lam
Read the story on SuperSport.com