Jake White has been able to choose his returning Springboks for Saturday’s tricky United Rugby Championship clash with Cardiff at Loftus Versfeld, but he knows management of his playing resources is going to be crucial as the Bulls head into a busy Christmas month of rugby.
It is unchartered territory for the Bulls, and all the South African URC franchises, as they are simply not used to playing rugby at this time of year. Last December the Omicron variant of Covid put the tournament on hold, but this year the Bulls will visit the Stormers two days before Christmas and will be playing the Sharks in Durban on the last day of the year.
After taking on Cardiff, the Bulls will make their European Professional Club Rugby bow by hosting Olympique Lyon and then visiting the Exeter Chiefs in the Champions Cup. But instead of perhaps resting them after the Springboks’ end-of-year tour, White has named flank Marco van Staden, flyhalf Johan Goosen, wing Canan Moodie and fullback Kurt-Lee Arendse in the starting XV to take on Cardiff.
“It’s wonderful for us to have the Springboks back. It gives us a good team to take on a very good Cardiff side, who have beaten both the Stormers and the Sharks,” White said on Friday.
“Those Boks have done well, pulling off a massive win over England at Twickenham and they will be on a high. That injection of really talented players has brought energy to training, which spreads across the group.
“I don’t want to put the handbrake on that, we want to continue that, the positive vibe, we must embrace it. But we can’t keep the same team for the next six-to-nine weeks, we have to be at our best.
“I understand the enormity of the Champions Cup, and you need a squad that is big and good enough. It’s going to be unique for us, going from 38° in Pretoria to -2 and snowing in Exeter,” White said.
Goosen back at 10
Assistant coach Pine Pienaar spoke on Tuesday about Cardiff’s strengths and getting the balance right in the Bulls selection, and White named a physical loose trio on Friday with Van Staden and Cyle Brink returning to the starting back row.
But against the Cardiff side who showed how brilliant they are in terms of game-management in thrashing the Sharks last weekend, there will be much focus on Goosen’s return to the No 10 jersey, with the Bulls hoping he will be at his adroit best.
“I’d like to play Johan as much as possible and I think we’ll see over the next six weeks that the more he plays the better he’ll become,” White said.
“He was out for a long time and he played in different positions, in and out of the team, which was not ideal for him. But he now has a long list of games coming up, we’ll need to manage him and get him playing well again.”
Bulls: Kurt-Lee Arendsti, David Kriel, Cornal Hendricks, Harold Vorster, Canan Moodie, Johan Goosen, Zak Burger, Elrigh Louw, Cyle Brink, Marco Van Staden, Ruan Nortje (c), Ruan Vermaak, Mornay Smith, Johan Grobbelaar, Gerhard Steenekamp. Bench – Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Simphiwe Matanzima, Francois Klopper, Janko Swanepoel, Nizaam Carr, Embrose Papier, Chris Smith, Lionel Mapoe.