KLA, Moodie back as Bulls beef up for Sharks
The Vodacom Bulls reverted to their strongest available side as both World Cup winners Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie returned to the starting line-up ahead of their Vodacom United Rugby Championship showdown with the Hollywoodbets Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Arendse and Moodie return to the back three to join World Cup winning team-mate Willie le Roux in a dream last line of defence as coach Jake White made six changes to the side that beat Connacht last week.
The Bulls did lose captain Ruan Nortje to a hamstring injury, forcing one of those changes, with Reinhardt Ludwig replacing him in a very inexperienced second row alongside Janko Swanepoel while the rest of the changes all focused on strengthening the squad.
Other than Arendse and Moodie, Embrose Papier and Johan Goosen return as the starting halfback combination, with Scottish international Jaco van der Walt and Zak Burger dropping to the bench.
Find of the season, young No.8 Cameron Hanekom returns to the side after missing the Connacht game, with Nizaam Carr dropping to the bench. With Nortje out and Carr on the bench the captaincy has fallen to Springbok Elrigh Louw, who will form a tough loose trio with Hanekom and World Cup winner Marco van Staden.
Wilco Louw will start at tighthead, but Ox Nche’s place on the Sharks bench may negate the anticipated showdown between the two front row titans. Gerhard Steenekamp and Akker van der Merwe complete the Bulls front row.
On the bench Jan-Hendrik Wessels will continue as back-up hooker, while Mornay Smith and Simphiwe Matanzima are the back-up front row. Lock Deon Slabbert, who is on loan from the Pumas following the injuries to Jannes Kirsten and Jacques du Plessis, gets his chance from the bench.
Speedster Sebastian de Klerk completes the bench.
WORLD CUP WINNERS GALORE
White said that he hoped the return of the Bulls four World Cup winners and the amount of Boks in the Sharks line-up would bring the crowds back to Loftus.
“I hope we get a lot of supporters. We’re going to have four World Cup winners running out and I’m sure whatever World Cup winners they have available to them will play. So it will be the first time the local crowd get to see 8 or so World Cup winners on the field,” White added.
“I’m hoping that will be a massive boost for the supporters, but it will be a helluva game. They beat us last year once, we beat them once so we are not taking anything for granted.”
While derby wins are a premium, White doesn’t want this side to lose momentum after their good start this season.
“Every team needs to win their home games, we’ve seen the stats on how difficult it is to win away from home. You have to make sure you win you home games - especially derbies because it is like an eight point swing. If you win one of your games away, you not only take four but you are taking four away from someone in your conference.
“We earmarked getting a good start, we had a tour early on and we felt if we hit our straps early we would be in a good spot, and it has happened. We are probably in a much better place than most teams in the first round, considering we have played two of our six games at home.
“It’s a nice place to be but we mustn’t lose momentum.”
CHANCE FOR LUDWIG
White said it was a good opportunity in Nortje’s absence for Ludwig to stake a claim.
“We are hoping he will be available in a couple of weeks, but it is a great opportunity for someone else to do something. We lost Grobbies (Johan Grobbelaar), we lost Ruan Vermaak with an injury, we lost our captain with a suspension and we lost Cameron Hanekom - so five guys who played the week before and yet we played some excellent rugby.
“I’m hoping for exactly the same, whoever slots in, hopefully we get the same performance.”
Still, the Sharks, following their 10-try demolition of the Dragons, are likely to be tough opposition, and derbies are naturally attritional affairs in SA Rugby, so White is wary of their form, saying he wasn’t surprised with their big win.
“It doesn’t surprise me, a lot of those guys are top class players. Their entire backline are Springboks - even Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Grant Williams on the bench are Springboks. The whole backline plus two reserves are Springboks, so it was just a question of time before they got it right.
“You saw - they scored 10 tries at home against the Dragons and I am sure they will be a lot more confident after getting a win than they would have been a couple of weeks ago.”
WHITE WARY OF SHARKS
White expects the Sharks to move the ball but wouldn’t be surprised if they kick a lot more this week on the highveld.
“He has come out and said they need to come out and change a few things and be more brave when they attack. And those 10 tries, he would have enjoyed that, because you get a lot of confidence from scoring 10 tries. But then, at altitude, a guy like Curwin and Fassi kicks the ball a mile. Boeta Chamberlain also kicks the ball a long way as well.
“Good teams are good enough to do both. They can keep the ball or kick it when they get to altitude.”
Either way, a mouth-watering derby is on the cards.
Vodacom Bulls: Willie le Roux; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Stedman Gans, David Kriel, Canan Moodie; Johan Goosen, Embrose Papier; Cameron Hanekom, Elrigh Louw (captain), Marco van Staden, Reinhardt Ludwig, Janko Swanepoel, Wilco Louw, Akker van der Merwe, Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Simphiwe Matanzima, Mornay Smith, Deon Slabbert, Nizaam Carr, Zak Burger, Jaco van der Walt, Sebastian de Klerk.