Jake defends Bulls selection as he makes 13 changes

rugby12 April 2024 13:36| © SuperSport
By:Brenden Nel
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Sebastian de Klerk © Gallo Images

“This is the best team we have available!”

Vodacom Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White strongly defended his selection for Saturday’s Investec Champions Cup and rejected tags that the Bulls had traveled to England with a so-called “B team.”

With only two players surviving from last weekend’s 59-19 mauling of French side Lyon - and that being 19-year-old lock JF van Heerden and winger Sebastian de Klerk - the Bulls look totally different for the quarterfinal and are missing no less than 11 Springbok players from this trip.

In fact, 12 players from last weekend’s match 23 are in this week’s squad, but 11 of them are starting, prompting White to quip that because of injuries and other concerns he was forced to play this side.

White also pointed out that every player in the squad had either played a Vodacom United Rugby Championship or Champions Cup game and the bulk of this team was the same that lost to Lyon by one point in the pool stages.

“I’ve said it before but I learnt last year that we didn’t rotate enough and we played the same players over and over and it came back to bite us,” White said.

“Six of the guys in the squad played in three Super Rugby finals, eight of the players here were in the squad that beat Leinster two years ago in a URC semifinal while guys like Cameron Hanekom and Stravino Jacobs have returned from injury.

“What's also very important is that we have a number of injuries and I’ve received medical advice that some guys who have bumps and bruises would be a massive risk to bring overseas with their contusions and there would be a risk they wouldn’t be ready for Saturday.

“We can’t take the risk of having 4, 5, 6 players 50-50 and not being ready as they wouldn’t be able to be replaced, it would be impossible. So it is a combination of a rotated squad, injured guys, experience and medical advice.”

White said while he didn’t have any of his marquee players available, he still wanted to win the game, even though odds may now be against that.

“I’d like to win. Every competition I coach in I want to win. We were the only union that took the Currie Cup seriously last year while others were playing young teams. So I think it would be a slap in the face of the players when people say this is a B team.

“We have got to get to a point where we don’t have an A or B team. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for the players to make some memories.”

White also said it served no purpose having a large group of players and then not giving them an opportunity to prove themselves.

“In a long season you have to rely on your squad and it is no use having 55 contracted players and not using them. Players tell you ‘coach give me a chance’ and do we only do that in games that don’t matter? Teams like Toulouse, Saracens and Leinster used most of their players in the competition, we are only in year two and we are trying to build a squad to win.”

Part of the match 23 is SA under-20 lock Merwe Olivier, who will cover flank and lock on the bench. The former Grey College player is seen as a star of the future and the Bulls now have four locks - Janko Swanepoel at 24 being the oldest, with Van Heerden the youngest at 19. Rynhardt Ludwig, the other lock on the bench is 21 years old.

The forward pack is experienced, with Cameron Hanekom and Celimpilo Gumede returning to join Nizaam Carr in the loose trio while Simphiwe Matanzima, Akker van der Merwe and Mornay Smith were on the bench last week.

Then at halfback Chris Smith and Zak Burger are seasoned campaigners, as is Harold Vorster at inside centre with former Edinburgh and Montpellier utility back Henry Immelmann joining him in the midfield.

De Klerk and Devon Williams are joined by Stravino Jacobs in the back three with the latter back from injury.

TEAM: Devon Williams, Sebastian de Klerk, Henry Immelman, Harold Vorster, Stravino Jacobs, Chris Smith, Zak Burger; Cameron Hanekom, Celimpilo Gumede, Nizaam Carr (captain), JF van Heerden, Janko Swanepoel, Mornay Smith, Akker van der Merwe, Simphiwe Matanzima.

REPLACEMENTS: Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Dylan Smith, Francois Klopper, Merwe Olivier, Rynhardt Ludwig, Keegan Johannes, Jaco van der Walt, Cornal Hendricks.