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    Lood looks right stuff as Bulls skipper

    2019-02-18 21:57

    Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - So far so good … it seems a more than reasonable observation to make following Lood de Jager’s baptism on Saturday as the Bulls’ Super Rugby captain.

    The same naturally applied to new head coach Pote Human: he’s off to a flier too, when you consider that 40-3 destruction jobs on arch-rivals the Stormers don’t come around every day.

    But the business was primarily done out in the middle at Loftus, of course, where the Bulls’ collective unity of purpose was a striking feature of their handsome win.

    For that, it seems almost impossible to downplay the influence of sound, suitably popular leadership.

    The lanky De Jager occupies one of the spinal positions in a rugby team – the middle-jumping, so often lineout-calling lock – so Human probably figured that it was a decent stepping stone to his ascension to the broader leadership.

    It came, let’s not forget, from a decent crop of candidates, too, not least being flyhalf Handre Pollard, a former SA under-20 captain and increasingly a vital cog in the Springbok machine.

    Pollard remains in charge of the backline plans, and as De Jager’s official deputy; he should take the reins seamlessly enough in situations where the big No 5 has been deemed to have put in an energy-sapping shift in the engine room and is called off before the 80 minutes have run their course for game-management purposes.

    Apart from his own vital, typically spring-heeled and vigilant role in giving the Stormers lineout a serious case of the collywobbles in the definitive first quarter on Saturday, the 2.06-metre Bok second-rower was suitably active in all other areas – including a healthy tackle count.

    But there was also a discernible calmness to his captaincy, in the way he engaged not only with his own troops but referee Jaco Peyper, too, whenever necessary.

    De Jager also comes across as agreeably affable and articulate in his television-interview and general media dealings, not afraid to infuse a welcome dash of humour.

    The 26-year-old, for whom 2018 was severely curtailed by injury, is clearly on a mission this year to regain a starting place in the Test team, with the World Cup such a massive target toward the end of it.

    He was only able to add two caps (off the bench, on the end-of-year tour) last year, bringing his current tally up to 38, while former domestic rival from the Lions, that eternal workaholic who is Franco Mostert, monopolised the green and gold No 5 jersey with 11 starts in the season.

    But now Mostert has taken up residence at faraway Gloucester in the English Premiership, which should not do any harm, let’s face it, to De Jager’s quest to gradually muscle his way back to the front of the Test pecking order in the berth.

    This may irk some long-time Johannesburg devotees of Mostert, but with his more formidable build and superior X-factor through his extraordinary athleticism, I would argue that Alberton-born De Jager is well-placed already to achieve that goal by the time the international roster comes around. 

    I have an early gut feeling, into the bargain, that captaincy will be good for De Jager’s overall game …

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Saturday, 23 March 2019
    • Hurricanes v Stormers, Westpac Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Crusaders, Sydney Cricket Ground 10:45
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    • Bulls v Chiefs, Loftus Versfeld 15:05
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