Jake White has always had an attachment to big, physical players, but the new Bulls coach was most excited about the attacking flair on offer from the several whippets in his squad when he named his roster on Thursday for their SuperFan Saturday match against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld.
The squad includes two Springbok Sevens players in Stedman Gans and Kurt-Lee Arendse, and there are other players like Gio Aplon and Jade Stighling who make up for their lack of size with the size of their talent.
“I’m told I usually only like big okes and that we’re only going to play like the Bulls used to,” White said ironically, “but these are little guys with lots of skill and pace and I’m really excited about them. Watch this space!”
The other selections that the former World Cup winning Springbok coach seemed particularly excited about where that of 19-year-old loosehead prop Jan-Hendrik Wessels, who is 6’3 and 120kg and spent a season with Clermont Auvergne in France, and, at the other end of the spectrum, veteran flyhalf Morne Steyn.
“Jan-Hendrik reminds me of Os du Randt and he will be a Springbok, there’s no doubt about it. We need to give him a chance to develop and playing with Springboks this weekend and learning about senior rugby will be a great experience for him before the U21 tournament starts next week,” White said of the former SA Schools and Grey College star.
“I’ve never worked with Morne Steyn before and when he was flourishing in South Africa, I was overseas. I did watch his progression at Stade Francais, where he won championships with them, and he’s just an unbelievable team guy, full of energy. He’s a lot more athletic than people think and the older he’s got, the more he understands what he can and cannot do. He looks after himself, he’s very fit and he’s a great role-model. There’s no doubt he still has a massive role to play at the Bulls and he’s exactly the sort of general we need,” White said of the 36-year-old, who has 66 Test caps and three Super Rugby titles to his name.
The Bulls will be without the exciting front row expertise of tighthead Marcel van der Merwe, loosehead Lizo Gqoboka and hooker Johan Grobbelaar, who are all unfit for play at the moment. Grobbelaar has had a particularly unfortunate time, having his appendix out seven weeks ago and then catching the Covid-19 virus, but White said the 22-year-old will be back in the fray soon.
Given the recent history of underperformance at Loftus Versfeld, the maiden season under White will see the expectation levels start at a high level. But the coach stressed that the weekend’s hit-out is not so much about the result as getting the combinations right for when the Super Rugby local competition starts and also ensuring they develop some continuity.
“We have lots of options on Saturday, but we’ll probably start with the ‘team’, see how the combinations go and then try out others in a match situation. So far we’ve been running moves with both teams knowing the plays against each other, so it will be nice to try them when the opposition does not know them. But the most important thing is the combinations.
“Saturday is all about continuity as well, especially if we lose some players to the Springboks, who have a trial next week. It’s important to remember we finished last in Super Rugby and seventh in the Currie Cup, we’ve won one out of six games this year. So we can only go up, but we do still have expectations on us. But I think the pressure is on everybody, the Sharks have been front-runners and far above everyone else,” White said.
Gio Aplon, Jade Stighling, Cornal Hendricks, Stedman Gans, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Clinton Swart, David Kriel, Travis Ismaiel, Stravino Jacobs, Morne Steyn, Chris Smith, Ivan van Zyl, Embrose Papier, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Duane Vermeulen, Nizaam Carr, Tim Agaba, Arno Botha, Muller Uys, Marco van Staden, Ruan Nortje, Juandre Kruger, Jason Jenkins, Sintu Manjezi, Trevor Nyakane, Mornay Smith, Corniel Els, Schalk Erasmus, Jacques van Rooyen, Jan-Hendrik Wessels.