ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE examines what the rumoured departure of Marco van Staden would mean for the Vodacom Bulls and his new suitors Leicester Tigers.
Since the arrival of Jake White the Bulls have been on a well-recorded recruitment drive, contracting a number of high-profile loose forwards. With the amount of competition in the back row, it was only a matter of time, though, before someone would seek a challenge elsewhere.
So it seemingly has proven to be, with reports of Springbok Marco van Staden on the brink of a move to the Premiership with Leicester Tigers. Van Staden has been a central figure in the Bulls’ domestic success and his departure would be a big loss for the Pretoria-based union.
He would leave a big gap in the side not just because of his quality as a player, but because the Bulls have a relative lack of specialist openside flanks in their systems. The role of Van Staden as a fetcher and breakdown disrupter is not easily replicable and there are not many that offer what he does.
Big-name signings Marcell Coetzee and Nizaam Carr are both capable of playing on the openside but have become more familiar at No 8. Coetzee, in particular, seems set to take over the No 6 jersey as Carr’s form has been middling since he joined the Bulls. Both offer their own strengths but neither are as prolific at the breakdown as Van Staden.
Also in the squad are relative rookies Muller Uys and WJ Steenkamp – but again, both prefer to play at No 8. Arno Botha is another senior player who could fill in at openside, but the Bulls have predominantly deployed him as a blindside option.
One also shouldn’t forget about young Elrigh Louw, who has enjoyed a breakthrough season, and boasts plenty of versatility.
When looking at the balance of the Bulls squad it becomes clear why the franchise has been fighting so hard to hold on to Van Staden. Their prospective loss would, however, be a massive coup for Leicester Tigers.
Since former England international Steve Borthwick assumed the position of head coach at Leicester, he has set out to build a ferocious pack befitting the champion teams of old. Part of this project has unsurprisingly involved the recruitment of a host of South Africans.
Jasper Wiese, Hanro Liebenburg and Cyle Brink currently form one of the strongest back-row combinations for the Tigers. The addition of Van Staden would only serve to strengthen this already formidable loose-forward trio.
Leicester will be especially keen to replace outgoing openside flank Jordan Taufua and Van Staden would be a perfect like-for-like replacement in what he offers at the breakdown.
Should the move go ahead, Van Staden could well establish himself as a star player in the Premiership.