Bulls without 14 regulars for crunch Champions Cup quarterfinal

rugby11 April 2024 11:36
By:Brenden Nel
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Ruan Nortje © Gallo Images

The magnitude of the Vodacom Bulls task ahead of Saturday’s Investec Champions Cup quarterfinal against Northampton Saints has just become a lot tougher after news that up to 14 of their regulars did not make the trip to England because of niggles and injuries.

While the news surrounding the Bulls had been about the travel plans and the number of aircraft they would use to get to their base ahead of the game, the reality is that they have left a number of top players behind ahead of the crunch game.

Co-Captain Ruan Nortje was suffering from a hamstring injury last week and missed the trip while Marco van Staden is still out with a knee injury.

But the bad news for Bulls fans is that both World Cup winning Boks Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie were withdrawn on Monday with injuries while Willie le Roux, David Kriel and Embrose Papier apparently also didn’t make the trip.

Marcell Coetzee was a forlorn figure on the sidelines at the team’s final training session and also didn’t travel, while others such as Johan Grobbelaar, Ruan Vermaak and Johan Goosen were also missing from the traveling list. Elrigh Louw and the potent front row of Gerhard Steenekamp and Wilco Louw are also still in South AFrica.

Bulls insiders have pointed to a long injury list and that they have chosen the best available team for the trip, but it is disappointing given the form of many of these players in the 59-19 win over Lyon in the Round of 16.

The Bulls also have a crunch Vodacom United Rugby Championship game on their hands when they return to Pretoria on Monday when they face defending Champions Munster at Loftus Versfeld in a game that could go a long way to determining their chances of hosting a home playoff game in the tournament.

Add to the travel disadvantage and the fact that the Bulls, even if they win, would not be able to host a home semifinal because of the competition’s rules that all semifinals and finals have to be played in Europe and it is understandable that White has chosen this route.

Ironically, virtually a similar side that will take the field against the Saints went to Lyon in a pool game and lost by a point, so while it isn’t their strongest side, the Bulls will feel confident in the depth of their squad for the game.

Those who did make the trip have a fair share of experience, including former Scottish international Jaco van der Walt, former Edinburgh utility back Henry Immelmann, former Boks Lionel Mapoe, Cornal Hendricks and the likes of Zak Burger, Nizaam Carr and others.

Carr, along with Cameron Hanekom and Mpilo Gumede should form the loose trio while JF van Heerden is likely to get a second run after his impressive display against Lyon at lock. Mornay Smith and Simphiwe Matanzima are likely to make up the front row with Akker van der Merwe.

Chris Smith and Zak Burger are likely to be the halfback combination while Mapoe and Hendricks could be in the midfield.

Where the Bulls may struggle in the second half especially is in the quality of the bench where there is likely to be a lot of inexperience.

White said whatever team takes the field he would challenge them to give a performance worthy of the Bulls jersey.

“I try and challenge them on performance. I said after the game that the reaction that we got, after we played Leinster, that we got against Lyon, is exactly what we want to see. The team, if they have a bit of a bad outing that it doesn’t rub off on the next fixture.

“It is not just about playing away, it is about playing anywhere to have a performance to win the game.”

The Bulls will name their squad on Friday for the clash.