Lood de Jager believes the recruitment of senior Springboks such as Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits will improve the Vodacom Bulls’ chances of clinching close matches in 2019. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The players who recently featured in the Top League tournament in Japan returned to Loftus Versfeld on Monday. The good news is that Vermeulen – one of the most senior players in the Bok setup – was among them. The bad news is that RG Snyman sustained an injury while on duty for his Japanese club and will be out of action for as many as eight weeks.
Coach Pote Human is likely to select a full-strength Bulls team for the next warm-up match on Sunday. The double-header event at the Cape Town Stadium, dubbed ‘Superhero Sunday’, will kick off with a match between the Lions and Sharks. The Bulls will tackle the Stormers thereafter.
Fans will have the opportunity to assess the four local teams before the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament commences on 15 February. The event will also mark the first time these teams don their superhero-inspired jerseys. The local sides will wear these strips in the South African derbies this season.
The Bulls could certainly use some inspiration after finishing at the foot of the South African conference in 2018. They’ve made some important recruitments in the off-season, and the likes of Vermeulen and Brits will have key roles to play both on and off the field in the coming months.
Vermeulen has 46 Test caps to his name and served as the Stormers skipper in 2015. He played for Toulon in Europe for three seasons before linking up with the Kubota Spears in Japan.
Brits boasts an intimate knowledge of the game at home and abroad. The hooker played for the Cats and Stormers before moving to English club Saracens in 2009. Last year, he called time on his career after Sarries’ triumph in the English Premiership final. He was subsequently brought out of retirement by Rassie Erasmus to work with the Boks.
De Jager, who has been appointed Bulls captain for the 2019 season, believes that these seasoned veterans will inject new life into the Pretoria-based franchise.
‘We’ve had a good pre-season to date, but things will move up a gear now that those other guys have joined us from Japan,’ De Jager told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘Duane will have a job to do in terms of mentoring the loose forwards, and I’m sure that the young hookers will benefit from working with Schalk Brits.’
The Bulls impressed in their first match against the Hurricanes last year. John Mitchell’s charges took the attacking game to the 2016 champions and secured an unlikely 21-9 victory.
Thereafter, the Bulls battled for consistency and went on to lose a number of games that they should have won. De Jager – who sustained a serious injury midway through that tournament – feels that the lack of experience in the side cost the Bulls dearly.
The skipper hopes that 2019 will be different now that he is fit, and now that veterans such as Vermeulen and Brits are on board.
‘We felt that we were on the right track after that match against the Hurricanes,’ the Bok lock said. ‘We continued to do some good things in subsequent matches, but let ourselves down at key moments.
‘There were many occasions where a lack of experience cost us in a clutch play, or when a lapse late in the contest resulted in us losing a game that we should have won. It happened when we played the Highlanders, the Stormers in Cape Town, the Reds … I could go on.
‘It’s up to the leaders to stand up in those situations, and I’m the kind of guy who wants to lead by example. Hopefully, Duane and Schalk will add some experience and help us close out those matches. They’ve been in those high pressure situations before and know what it takes to succeed.’
For every tackle made by a South African player this year, Vodacom and SuperSport will together donate R100 to CHOC (the Childhood Cancer Foundation). Since 1979, CHOC has supported children with cancer and their families, both emotionally and practically. The aim is to raise R1-million throughout the season.
Rugby fans can also contribute by adding R5 for CHOC to every Vodacom Super Rugby match ticket they purchase, buying CHOC merchandise at the CHOC Shops that will be at every stadium for the South African derbies, or going to www.choc.org.za and making a donation.
The Bulls will take part in a CHOC hospital visit, while the Lions and Stormers will host CHOC House Parties. The Sharks will take the CHOC children for a movie night..