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Jake White changes 14 for Bulls’ Champions Cup quarterfinal clash against Northampton Saints

Jake White changes 14 for Bulls’ Champions Cup quarterfinal clash against Northampton Saints
A pensive Bulls head coach Jake White before the United Rugby Championship match against Leinster in Dublin on 29 March. (Photo: Harry Murphy/Gallo Images)

The Bulls and Sharks are the only two South African sides playing in the quarterfinals of the European fixtures this weekend. The two sides have taken a very different approach to their respective matches.

Jake White has rung the changes for his Bulls side’s European Champions Cup quarterfinal clash against Northampton Saints in the United Kingdom this weekend.

It has been a drama-filled week for the Bulls and head coach Jake White — a week that has seen him make 14 changes to the starting side from the team that beat Lyon 59-19 in the round of 16 of European rugby’s premier competition at Loftus last weekend.

Only Sebastian de Klerk has retained his position on the right wing. Changes in the front row see Simphiwe Matanzima and Mornay Smith start at props while Akker van der Merwe moves from the bench into the No. 2 jersey.

No South African side has made it to the semifinal stage of the Champions Cup yet, making White’s decision to make so many player changes at this stage rather peculiar.

White outlined four reasons for the changes in a press conference on Friday afternoon.

“Rotation of the squad” was the first reason. “Some injured guys coming back” was the second.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Stormers and Bulls success could go a long way to smoothing SA’s integration into Europe with strong Champions Cup displays

The next was having “a great balance of experience of what we’ve had” and finally “medical advice of not flying guys 12 hours in the air with the risk that they could play or get re-injured and definitely be out for a long period of time”.

“One of the things I learned last year… was that I didn’t rotate my squad enough,” White said.

“I kept the same players playing over and over and it came back to bite me at the end of the season.”

No. 8 Cameron Hanekom and winger Stravino Jacobs are the two players who have returned from injury.

Akker van der Merwe of the Blue Bulls

Akker van der Merwe of the Blue Bulls. (Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)

No flights for Boks

The players who did not fly over to Northampton include co-Captain Ruan Nortje, who is suffering from a hamstring injury, as well as World Cup-winning wingers Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie, who have niggles.

Regular starters backline Willie le Roux, David Kriel and Embrose Papier also did not make the trip.

“I got medical advice that some guys — who got bumps and bruises after the last trip and after the last massive match we had against Lyon — would be a massive risk for me to bring them overseas,” White said.

“With the travelling, the contusions and the injuries they have [they] could probably not be ready for Saturday.

“That would mean that I would be here with a big group of players that would be at risk not to start on the weekend.”

Nonetheless, White remains confident of his new-look side and the potential internal competition for positions it could create — a long-term goal for the coach.

“When is the right time to play a guy?” White quipped.

“There’s no use having 55 contracted players if you’re never going to use them.

“People are saying A and B team. That’s a slap in the face.

“I’d like to win, that’s first prize. But with that, I’d like depth and competition for the jersey.”

In the opposition on Saturday will be former Stormer and Junior Springbok Juarno Augustus.

“They’re definitely the form team of the competition,” White said about Northampton Saints, wary about the threat the side currently leading the standings in the Premiership pose.

Eben Etzebeth of the Sharks

Eben Etzebeth of the Sharks during the United Rugby Championship match against Edinburgh. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports/Gallo Images)

Sharks on the prowl

While the Bulls are trying to manage their resources in different competitions, the Sharks have put all their eggs in the Challenge Cup basket.

Sharks head coach John Plumtree has picked as strong a team as possible for his side’s EPCR Challenge Cup quarter-final clash against Edinburgh at Kings Park in Durban.

There are eight Springboks in the starting lineup with lock Eben Etzebeth returning from injury.

The only other change to the playing 23 that beat Zebre Parma last weekend is Dan Jooste who is in for Kerron van Vuuren.

It’s an all-Springbok front row with Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch wearing numbers 1-3.

“If anyone had told us at the start of the season that we could still win a trophy and that in Europe, I don’t think a lot of people would’ve taken note,” Etzebeth said this week.

“But now we are three games away from winning it. Not discrediting our opposition, there are seven other great teams left in the competition. We are going to have to work hard to win the final.

“We have Edinburgh [tomorrow], which will be a massive challenge.

“If we don’t win, it will obviously be a massive disappointment of not performing in the URC, not going all the way (in the Challenge Cup) and not qualifying for Champions Cup rugby.” DM

Kickoff for the Bulls’ clash against Northampton Saints is at 9pm Saturday evening, while the Sharks tackle Edinburgh at 1:30pm.

Bulls lineup

1. Simphiwe Matanzima 2. Akker van der Merwe 3. Mornay Smith 4. Janko Swanepoel 5. JF van Heerden 6 Nizaam Carr (c) 7. Mpilo Gumede 8. Cameron Hanekom 9. Zak Burger 10. Chris Smith 11. Stravino Jacobs 12. Harold Vorster 13. Henry Immelman 14. Sebastian de Klerk 15. Devon Williams.


16. Jan-Hendrik Wessels 17. Dylan Smith 18. Francois Klopper 19. Merwe Olivier 20. Reinhardt Ludwig 21. Keagan Johannes 22. Jaco van der Walt 23. Cornal Hendricks.


Sharks lineup

1. Ox Nche 2. Bongi Mbonambi 3. Vincent Koch 4. Eben Etzebeth 5. Emile van Heerden 6. James Venter 7. Vincent Tshituka 8. Phepsi Buthelezi 9. Jaden Hendrikse 10. Siya Masuku 11. Makazole Mapimpi 12. Ethan Hooker  13. Lukhanyo Am (c) 14. Werner Kok 15. Aphelele Fassi.


16. Dan Jooste 17. Ntuthuko Mchunu 18. Hanro Jacobs 19. Corne Rahl 20. Jeandre Labuschagne 21. Grant Williams 22. Curwin Bosch 23. Francois Venter.


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