• Bulls building enviable back-row depth

    The expected signing of Jacques du Plessis means that the Vodacom Bulls will boast a back row that will be the envy of South African franchises, writes DYLAN JACK.

    Du Plessis is set to return to Pretoria after Montpellier this past Sunday confirmed that an agreement has been reached to release him early from his contract, set to expire in 2022.

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    According to Netwerk24, the 27-year-old was targeted by both the Bulls and Sharks, but has decided that a return to the former is in his best interests.

    Even though they will bid opensider Marco van Staden farewell, the Bulls already have a stacked back row, with Duane Vermeulen, Arno Botha, Nizaam Carr and Elrigh Louw set to be joined by Marcell Coetzee in July.

    Director of rugby Jake White has also been able to blood the likes of Werner Gouws and WJ Steenkamp – who were part of the Bulls U21 Provincial Championship-winning team – during the Preparation Series, while Muller Uys is expected to be back from injury by the middle of April.

    This is such that one wonders where exactly Du Plessis will fit in, when he is released to complete his move.

    During the Currie Cup and Super Rugby Unlocked, White’s preferred back row featured captain Duane Vermeulen as the mainstay No 8, while Botha and Louw rotated at blindside and Van Staden and Carr did the same at No 6. Even though he has morphed into a No 8, Coetzee will probably be expected to take Van Staden’s place at openside, at least in the initial stages of his Bulls career.

    The good news in Du Plessis’ case is that he has proven in France that he is nothing if not adaptable. In his first stint with the Bulls, he was almost exclusively used at blindside flank, but shifted to lock at the start of the 2015 Super Rugby season.

    This pattern has continued at Montpellier. In his 101 appearances for the club, Du Plessis has been rotated between blindside flank, lock – forming a particularly powerful second-row combination with Paul Willemse – and even at No 8.

    Perhaps the role that White sees Du Plessis fulfilling at the Bulls is that of a ‘utility forward’, someone who can do an enforcer’s job at both blindside flank and lock. This makes sense when one considers that the Bulls will be without Sintu Manjezi, who tore his ACL in the Currie Cup final, until September.

    After the Bulls missed out on signing Jason Jenkins, bringing Du Plessis back to Loftus could be a big step in completing their puzzle.

    The Du Plessis signing also makes sense when one considers the challenges the Bulls will face in the expanded PRO16 competition. The Bulls will likely have their set piece thrust into the spotlight, while they will need a back row that’s capable of duking it out in wet-weather conditions on heavy UK pitches.

    In this case, it will be the pack that ‘takes you to the gutters’ rather than the one that ‘takes you to the dance floor’ – to apply the famous Rassie Erasmus quote – that comes out on top.

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    Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

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    Dylan Jack