Cape Town - Can the Bulls forwards secure enough ball for Morne Steyn to dictate terms against the Springbokladen Sharks pack?
That is arguably the biggest challenge awaiting the men from Pretoria in their United Rugby Championship encounter at Jonsson Kings Park in Durban today.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt was able to bring back a whole horde of players who had been on tour with the Boks in Europe in November, including centre Lukhanyo Am, wings Makazole Mapimpi and Sbu Nkosi, and flank Siya Kolisi.
But perhaps the biggest impact will be felt in the front row, where Bongi Mbonambi will wear the No 2 jersey after his move from the Stormers, while Thomas du Toit will resume at tighthead prop.
Ox Nche was not chosen, presumably due to Covid-19-related factors, so energetic youngster Ntuthuko Mchunu gets an opportunity in the No 1 jersey.
The Bulls, in contrast, have lost Bok front-rower Trevor Nyakane to French club Racing 92 this week, while Rugby Championship tourist Johan Grobbelaar is on the bench.
They do have 37-year-old hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who has 79 Test caps to his name and has seen and done it all on a rugby field, alongside the established loosehead Gerhard Steenekamp and Robert Hunt, who was signed from UCT earlier this year, at tighthead.
Bulls coach Jake White, though, feels that his won’t be under pressure in Durban.
“There’s no pressure on us. They’ve got internationals from Samoa, Scotland and Australia (and Argentina), they’re playing at home ... They’ve been telling us for months that it’s just a question of time before those guys arrive back and things change. So I’m looking forward to seeing how good they are, because we are just growing along as a team,” White said.
“Bongi is the dominant hooker who starts every week, and we’ve got Bismarck du Plessis there – he’s got 79 Test matches and has won a World Cup, and I’m quite keen to see how he and Bongi’s battle goes. Scrums are always important in South Africa. And we’ve got a guy who played 79 Tests, weighs over 100kg, knows Thomas (du Toit) well, and I’m sure he will introduce himself to Bongi tomorrow evening.
“And Marcell Coetzee would love to be the openside flank for South Africa – and Siya’s got that jumper.”
White made a number of interesting selections, with regular wing Kurt-Lee Arendse at fullback, while first-choice No 15 David Kriel is at outside centre.
White felt that Kriel’s size will be handy in midfield to keep the likes of Am in check, while Arendse can bring a new dynamic to the attack.
“We’ve just played David Kriel there, and I’d like to see another option at fullback. I think a guy like Kurt-Lee gets some space – the Sharks kick a lot of ball – so what I’m thinking is that if they kick poorly and he gets the ball in his hands, he can play like a Sevens player,” White said.
“It’s something I want to try – I’ve been wanting to try it for a long time, and I’m looking forward to see how he does.”