With the Bulls having the experience of Arno Botha and Jacques van Rooyen on the bench, and a Springbok scrumhalf in Embrose Papier sitting alongside them, and the Lions fielding six forwards among their reserves, five of them relatively inexperienced, Bulls coach Jake White said that he is confident his team will have the edge when it comes to the closing stages of their Currie Cup semi-final in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Lions will have a well-travelled reserve prop in Ruan Dreyer, but Jan-Henning Campher, Carlu Sadie, Reinhard Nothnagel, Wilhelm van der Sluys and Francke Horn are all still making their way at this level and White quickly seized on the composition of the visitors’ bench.
“When I look at the Lions, I see six forwards on the bench so that’s how they’re going to finish and I don’t think those guys have played a game together as a pack,” White said on Thursday.
“They said they’re going to run the ball but they only have two backs on the bench. So it’s going to be hard for them to play from side-to-side and it’s a big risk with six forwards who haven’t played together before.
“So that will present opportunities for us as well, our preparation has been very good and we are full of confidence. We’ve won most second halves in the matches we’ve played, so by that measure we are a team that finishes well.
“We can change things around and not just be one-dimensional. We’ve beaten the Lions, Sharks and Western Province twice so there’s no reason for us not to be confident.”
Meanwhile, the Bulls starting line-up announced on Thursday is pretty much the first-choice team White would have had in mind a few weeks ago. The exceptions are at lock and hooker, where Sintu Manjezi and Schalk Erasmus have cracked the nod.
Promising 25-year-old second-rower Walt Steenkamp is still fighting his way through the Covid return-to-play protocols, while Erasmus is the heavier of the two hookers – 108kg to the 98kg of Johan Grobbelaar – and thus will start to bolster the scrum, where the Bulls will have to weather an early onslaught from the Lions.
“Walt is still not 100% in terms of the return-to-play protocols. Our medical team is very proactive and has lots of concern for the players, so his welfare comes first, we won’t take a chance and they are 100% sure that he’s not quite back where he should be,” White said. “Schalk scrummed with Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane last game and I just thought it was easier to keep them together.
“With Grobbies, Jacques and Arno on the bench we have a bit more senior, experienced heads to finish. We have the luxury of having Jacques on the bench, who is a great asset, but Lizo is a Springbok and has played many times with Trevor. They’ve been working with scrum coach Daan Human and the feeling was they are a settled combination.”