Several Bulls staked claim for places in Ireland series

rugby17 June 2024 06:36
By:Gavin Rich
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Players of Vodacom Blue Bulls © Gallo Images

Leinster would have left South Africa disappointed as a collective following yet another Vodacom United Rugby Championship semifinal defeat while on an individual basis some players have three weeks to get over being rattled by the Vodacom Bulls.

The Bulls’ 25-20 win in their Loftus semifinal was a statement made on behalf of not just the Pretoria franchise, but also the Springboks, with the World Cup champions and World Rugby’s No 1 team set to face the next best, Ireland, in the first test of a two match series at the same venue three weeks later.

Although the game was couched as a curtain-raiser for the international series that is to come, with the second test being played in Durban a week after the opener in Pretoria, what should concern Ireland is that the Bulls are a long way from being a shadow Bok team. Not in the same way that Leinster are a shadow Ireland team.

Okay, maybe that description of Leinster is slightly overdone. There are key Ireland players playing for other Irish provinces, think the flyhalf Jack Crowley from Munster and Connacht’s behemoth inside centre Bundee Aki, not to mention the influential Peter O’Mahoney (also Muster). And former Bok coach Jacques Nienaber, will tell you that the systems are different, the defence being a start.


But it is the case that more than half the Leinster starting team and most of their bench players will be returning to South Africa shortly and several of them underwent a harrowing experience at Loftus. Think the front row, that was scrummed into submission by a Bulls unit spearheaded by Wilco Louw.

Andrew Porter is one of the world’s top rated loose-heads but at Loftus he was completely bossed by Louw, and the equally highly rated hooker Dan Sheehan alongside him was also as a consequence unable to be the factor he usually is in the game.

Louw isn’t even a first choice Bok squad member at the time of writing, with the likes of Frans Malherbe, Vincent Koch and Trevor Nyakane having played ahead of him in recent seasons and in two World Cup campaigns.

Then there were the problems that Marco van Staden and man of the match Cameron Hanekom gave Ireland big-wigs Caelyn Doris and Josh van der Flier in the battle of the respective back rows. Van der Flier is usually an ace ball scavenger at the breakdown but in this game the momentum of the game saw him reduced to mainly a tackling role.

The Leinster pack in particular will feel rattled after the going over they were given by the Bulls and Ireland head coach Andy Farrell may have his work cut out getting his players to rediscover their confidence and self belief when they return here in the colours of their country.


The Bulls will have their eyes firmly focused on Saturday’s URC final against Glasgow Warriors, with the Boks swinging into international action for the first time since winning the Rugby World Cup when they play Wales in London earlier in the afternoon. The Bok team for Twickenham will exclude Bulls players as well as players based in Europe, so there will be a strong experimental angle to the side that Rassie Erasmus will announce on Tuesday.

However, given how they went against Leinster, there must be several Bulls players strongly in the frame for the series against Ireland, and it will be interesting to see if Erasmus pays more attention to the claims of former Stormers player Louw than he has in the past.

With an opening at No 8, young Cameron Hanekom must surely be there or there abouts when it comes to international selection. Van Staden of course has been there before and Siya Kolisi wears the Bok No 6 jersey but the man they called Eskom produced some great performances for his country last season and must surely be challenging for a place in the match day squad.

When it comes to the wider squad, there are arguments to be made for Bulls skipper Ruan Nortje and several other members of the pack, while if it were not for the fact that there seem to be a plethora of flyhalves already in the squad, Johan Goosen wouldn’t let the Boks down if he was selected.

You don’t select a Bok team based on one game, and there is still a final for the Bulls to play where they can either impress again or see their stocks slip, but the timing of the Bulls’ performance was a bit like the old days when there were long tours into the country and players would fight their way into the Bok team by playing well for their provinces against the tourists.


It was a bit like that at Loftus at the weekend, for Leinster featured so many Ireland internationals. One thing is for certain, and that is that Erasmus is spoiled for choice when it comes to raw material, although his biggest headache might revolve around the availability of one of the Bulls who is already an experienced Bok, namely Willie le Roux.

The double World Cup winning fullback went off with concussion against Leinster and is in doubt for the URC final. If it is just concussion, he will be ready to play against Ireland, but Bulls coach Jake White hinted afterwards there might be more to it than that. If that is the case, the Boks could be in trouble at fullback as Damian Willemse is also injured and the other fullbacks in the squad lack experience.