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Van Staden back for semi, but Bulls look vulnerable on the wing

Solid defence and intense competition at the breakdown points are the two non-negotiable aspects where the Bulls will not only have to improve dramatically, but will have to be effective and accurate if they are to have any chance of beating the top Irish team, Leinster, in the URC semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Although there was speculation in advance that the Bulls’ regular captain and rock-hard flanker, Marcel Coetzee, would be part of the Bulls’ 23-man squad for tomorrow’s semi-final of the United Rugby Championship (URC) against the Irish team, Leinster, this veteran’s name was nowhere to be found when Jake White announced his team earlier today.

White has made minimal forced changes to his side that will engage with Leinster in the “test match like” semi-final Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday.

After the Bulls struggled at the breakdown against Benetton last weekend and lost a lot of possession, it is good news that the Springbok flanker, Marco van Staden, is back in the team for the semi-final.

However, the biggest concern for supporters of the team is the two men who must replace the two injured Springboks Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie on the wings.

Devon Williams (left wing, 1.74m and 75kg) only joined the Bulls this year and he has no international experience. However, his direct opponent will be the experienced Irish winger, James Lowe (1.88m and 101kg), who has already played 31 tests for Ireland.

The only international experience that the Bulls’ right winger, Sergeal Petersen (1.71m and 84kg), has is five games for the Junior Springboks and one game for the SA “A” team.  He comes up against Jordan Larmour (1.78m and 91kg), who has already run out 32 times for Ireland.

The Bulls’ two wings will therefore both have to play the game of their lives in this semi-final and their defence will have to be flawless. If not, things could quickly start to go wrong for the Bulls if the men from Dublin start to build momentum.

Nevertheless, White was cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances in the duel.

“I am lucky enough that I have rotated my squad enough times this season that bringing in anyone into the match will not feel like we are throwing them into the deep end, they have had game time and the match fitness required at this level,” said White at the team press conference.

On his opponents, White said Leinster likes to hold onto the ball and they are able to keep it for 20 phases.

“We must find a way to get the ball back. We also must be accurate at the breakdown,” he remarked.

Upfront Gerhard Steenekamp (loose head), Johan Grobbelaar (hooker) and Wilco Louw (tight head) lead the pack with Ruan Vermaak and captain, Ruan Nortje at lock. Van Staden slots at openside with Elrigh Louw on the blind side and Cameron Hanekom on eighth-man duties.

On Van Staden’s return, the Bulls mentor said it is nice to have him back.

“He has the experience, has played at a World Cup and he wants to play. I am sure that he also wants to play in two weeks for the Springboks in the sold-out test match against Ireland at Loftus,” White commented.

At the back, Embrose Papier at scrumhalf, combines with Johan Goosen at flyhalf and the two halfbacks link up a backline featuring Devon Williams at left wing and Sergeal Petersen on the right side of the fortress. Harold Vorster and David Kriel combine once more at inside and outside centre respectively, with Willie Le Roux at fullback.

Another player facing a huge baptism of fire is Cornel Smit, the versatile backline player who recently reported at Loftus Versfeld, after previously being involved with the Stormers. He will sit on the bench as part of the Bulls’ five-three split with men like Akker van der Merwe, Simphiwe Matanzima, Francois Klopper, Reinhardt Ludwig, Jannes Kirsten, Keagan Johannes and Chris Smith.

“Cornel has trained well for us every time and it was always a matter of when he would get the opportunity. Now he gets the chance against an Irish backline and this is what sport is all about. He is excited, has been around, played SA Schools and he is quick and he adds a different dimension for us and he is good under the high ball and skilful with the boot as well,” White said about the possible debutant.

BULLS STARTING XV: 1. Gerhard Steenekamp, 2. Johan Grobbelaar, 3. Wilco Louw, 4. Ruan Vermaak, 5. Ruan Nortje (c), 6. Marco van Staden, 7. Elrigh Louw, 8. Cameron Hanekom, 9. Embrose Papier, 10. Johan Goosen, 11. Devon Williams, 12. Harold Vorster, 13. David Kriel, 14. Sergeal Petersen, 15. Willie Le Roux

REPLACEMENTS: 16. Akker van der Merwe, 17. Simphiwe Matanzima, 18. Francois Klopper, 19. Reinhardt Ludwig, 20. Nizaam Carr, 21. Keagan Johannes, 22. Chris Smith, 23. Cornel Smit


LEINSTER STARTING XV: Jimmy O’Brien; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong; Joe McCarthy, James Ryan (cap), Ryan Baird, Josh van der Flier, Caelan Doris

REPLACEMENTS: Rónan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Ross Molony, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Ciarán Frawley, Jamie Osborne


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