Coach Nollis Marais would have felt there was an outside chance of him losing star forwards RG Snyman and Lizo Gqoboka to the Springbok squad after their stellar Vodacom Super Rugby campaigns, so the Blue Bulls mentor is obviously delighted they have both returned from injury to take their places in the Blue Bulls squad for their third Currie Cup match against the EP Kings at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
The exciting Snyman, who is 2.06 metres tall, makes a particularly timely return to the second row because Jason Jenkins is now on the crocked list after suffering a knee ligament injury last weekend against the Free State Cheetahs, which will rule the lock out for four to six weeks.
Gqoboka will return to the starting loosehead prop position, with Pierre Schoeman shifting to the bench. Irne Herbst replaces Snyman amongst the replacements.
The other change to the starting lineup sees Duncan Matthews make his bow at fullback, having been on the bench for his debut last weekend against Free State.
Marais has decided on a 5-2 split on the bench with tighthead Jacobie Adriaanse taking Matthews’ place against his former team and allowing the coach to field a complete second front row.
“Duncan is something special but he’s been plagued by a lot of injuries. It’s time to play him now because he’s someone I’ll be relying on going forward. He’s a very dangerous player and we need to give him a start,” Marais said in Pretoria on Tuesday. “We also have a good lock combination, they both played Super Rugby, and it’s also a good chance for Irne, who is a former SA U20 lock, it’s a good game for him to prove himself.”
The Vodacom Blue Bulls made far too many mistakes against the Cheetahs and Marais said that was the reason for their 43-20 defeat in Bloemfontein.
“Against Western Province on the opening weekend we were 38-0 up but then we made a lot of mistakes and I said to the guys that if they do that against the Cheetahs then they will be punished. We’d also beaten them the last six games so the Cheetahs were going to be a hungry side, and they punished us for every mistake.
“But at 14-10 down we were on attack and dropped the ball, from which they went and scored, so it might have been a different game if we had scored then. There were 17 scoring opportunities that we didn’t take, which is bad. They had to make 121 tackles to our 61, so we attacked more with the ball, but we weren’t accurate enough with it.
“It doesn’t matter if you play beautiful rugby, you still need to win. Your conversion rate has to be good and we need to be more accurate,” Marais said.
Wings Jade Stiglingh and Travis Ismail, and centre Dries Swanepoel are the other men out injured at the moment, and Marais has given Dan Kriel another chance to step up to the mark at outside centre.
But it would be wildly optimistic for Kings supporters to expect a win at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night, although Marais said he expects them to play better this weekend because they were under-prepared as they started their campaign with a 10-28 defeat at the hands of the Boland Cavaliers in Port Elizabeth.
“The Kings only had three training sessions together before their first game and no coach can coach under those circumstances. So I have the utmost respect for the Kings, I don’t like games like these because if we just beat them then we’re weak, but if we beat them by 50 then everyone says we should have done that. So our focus is on ourselves and fixing last weekend’s mistakes,” Marais said.
Blue Bulls team: Duncan Matthews, Jamba Ulengo, Dan Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Bjorn Basson, Tian Schoeman, Piet van Zyl, Arno Botha, Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp, Marvin Orie, RG Snyman, Entienne Swanepoel, Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboko. Replacements – Edgar Marutlulle, Pierre Schoeman, Jacobie Adriaanse, Irne Herbst, Hanro Liebenberg, Andre Warner, Joshua Stander.