The Vodacom Bulls made a statement of intent as they revealed a few enterprising options among their backs in Saturday’s warm-up game against the Sharks, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
To digress for a second, what a pleasure it is to watch and write about live rugby once again, and full credit has to go to SA Rugby and the franchises for the co-operation and collaboration that has enabled the game to re-start.
It’s always difficult to know how much to read into warm-up matches, and particularly after more than six months of inactivity, there were always going to be a few surprises.
In many ways, the slate has been wiped clean since March, and as Vodacom Bulls coach Jake White stated before kick-off on Saturday: ‘Fans don’t want to hear about re-building … if anything, we’re re-booting.’
In the lead-up to Saturday’s first encounter, the Bulls had named a 30-man squad, but hadn’t revealed exactly how the team would line up.
So when they took to the field, it was particularly interesting to note the composition of a dynamic backline: 9 Ivan van Zyl, 10 Morne Steyn, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Stedman Gans, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 15 Gio Aplon.
After all the fuss in the off-season about the Bulls’ squad restructuring and how they had beefed up the pack, it was expected that our first sighting of the Pretoria men in action would reveal a forward-dominated, kick-heavy approach.
As it was, the Bulls announced their start under White with a maul try, contestable kick try and a turnover try, and there was real physicality and fight up front.
It’s about going back to the Bulls’ DNA, as the new director of rugby has put it.
However, there was also a quiet word of warning about the Bulls’ quick men, and on Saturday, sevens stars such as Kurt-Lee Arendse and Stedman Gans displayed their dynamism during a standout first half for the hosts.
With the pack establishing go-forward and veteran Morne Steyn directing proceedings from flyhalf, there was accuracy and tempo to the way the Bulls went about their business before the game became loose and disjointed after a raft of changes in the second half.
Then there was also the surprise selection of Cornal Hendricks at 12, with the regular wing looking lean and mean, while adding both physicality and speed to that inside centre channel.
On their return to South Africa, both Travis Ismaiel and Gio Aplon also looked quite at home, with the latter defying any preconceptions around age – particularly when one considers he will soon turn 38.
There’s still a long way to go in a new domestic season that is set to stretch through to January, but what the Bulls did reveal on Saturday is that they will have a few tricks up their sleeve.
With the speedsters at their disposal, there is an opportunity to balance a power pack with some X-factor on attack.
Call it ‘Jake-ball’ if you like, but it looks like there will be a lot more to it than just that.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images