Nollis Marais could be forgiven for shouting “Woe is me!” from the top of the Loftus Versfeld grandstand given the way injuries have hampered his pre-season preparation and the Bulls coach suffered another blow on Wednesday when highly-rated prop Lizo Gqoboka went down with a groin injury.
Following hot on the heels of the devastating news that flyhalf playmaker Handre Pollard has been ruled out for the season with ruptured knee ligaments, Gqoboka pulled out of this weekend’s warm-up match against the Lions in Polokwane with a groin strain an hour after being named in the squad.
Gqoboka will be out of action for a couple of weeks, joining senior loose forwards Lappies Labuschagne and Deon Stegmann, as well as youthful flank Roelof Smit, on the sidelines.
“You nurse Handre Pollard for weeks with his shoulder injury and then in a normal passing drill he hurts his leg. He was obviously a huge part of our plans, and Lizo too, plus Lappies and Steggies are out too. But the other guys must now step up. It’s a mind switch and the other guys must just get on with it,” Marais said at Loftus Versfeld on Wednesday.
Marais announced his best available team for Saturday’s match against the Lions with Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss, named as the Super Rugby captain, set to lead the franchise for the first time.
“It’s a great privilege for me and I seem to play better when responsibility is on my shoulders. We’ve lost Handre and Deon, who are both great leaders, but Rudi Paige has made a massive step up in terms of leadership. The team has a lot of respect for him, he has a lot of authority and he makes great calls,” Strauss said.
Jesse Kriel, who played fullback when he announced himself to the world stage in last year’s Super Rugby competition, has been named at outside centre by Marais, with the exciting Warrick Gelant in the number 15 jersey.
“I see Jesse as a number 13, he played there when I coached the U21s, and he is the Springbok outside centre, so that was the easiest position to slot in, he understands what we’re trying to do. I’m not too keen on him at fullback. Bjorn Basson is also an option at 15, and Jamba Ulengo could move into 11. Maybe we’ll do that for the last 15 minutes on Saturday,” Marais said.
When Francois Brummer returned to Loftus Versfeld in November for the first time since 2010 on loan from the Pumas, the 26-year-old could not have foreseen how vital he would be for the Bulls’ Super Rugby plans. But the former Waterkloof High School star is now the starting flyhalf with Tian Schoeman on the bench.
Team – Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Francois Brummer, Rudy Paige, Arno Botha, Hanro Liebenberg, Nic de Jager, Grant Hattingh, RG Snyman, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka, Jason Jenkins, Jannes Kirsten, Piet van Zyl, Tian Schoeman, Burger Odendaal, Werner Kruger, Pierre Schoeman, Jamba Ulengo, Jade Stighling.