Bulls can’t afford retreating scrum

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Bulls can’t afford retreating scrum

By Ashfak Mohamed Time of article published 30m ago

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CAPE TOWN – With five minutes gone, the Bulls and Lions set down for their first scrum in their recent Currie Cup clash at Loftus Versfeld.

The Bulls were expected to have the upper hand, considering Springbok Lizo Gqoboka was back from injury, and he was packing down alongside Trevor Nyakane – with young hooker Schalk Erasmus, who is on the players of national interest list compiled by Saru director of rugby Rassie Erasmus – in the middle.

They were up against Dylan Smith, Jaco Visagie and Jannie du Plessis of the Lions, three high experienced operators, but the props were not the regular first-choices this season.

Sti Sithole and Carlu Sadie have been generally preferred at No 1 and No 3 respectively, with Wiehahn Herbst also normally ahead of Du Plessis in the tighthead pecking order.

But last Wednesday, it was the Joburg front row that had the early advantage.

In the first scrum, it was Du Plessis who got the better of Gqoboka, while in the next two scrums, Smith shoved Nyakane backwards.

The last two led to penalties, with the third resulting in three points after Tiaan Swanepoel slammed over a 60-metre kick at goal to put the Lions 9-0 ahead after 20 minutes.

Later in the first half, though, Nyakane got his revenge, drilling Smith in a scrum to such an extent that the Lions No 1 had to go off injured. From there, the home side had the advantage in the set-piece.

And that has been the story of the Bulls scrum this season. Inconsistency has marred their efforts during the Super Rugby Unlocked and Currie Cup tournaments, with bursts of dominance at times and giving away penalties at others.

Nyakane has been the stand-out prop, but has also missed a few games due to injury. Gqoboka only returned from a long-term calf problem against the Lions, while Jacques van Rooyen has had good and average moments throughout the season.

Marcel van der Merwe, though, has battled throughout, with White feeling that some of the referees’ decisions haven’t gone the Springbok front-ranker’s way.

Back-up loosehead Gerhard Steenekamp has performed well when given game-time, while Mornay Smith hasn’t seen much of the action.

Under-21 loosehead prop Jan-Hendrik Wessels has been touted by White as the next Os du Randt, but was then strangely employed at tighthead against the Pumas last Sunday, where he was given a lesson by Morgan Naudé.

There is no way that the Bulls can afford to go backwards in the first few scrums in next Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld (2pm kick-off).

So, while Nyakane and Johan Grobbelaar are sure bets at tighthead and hooker respectively, who should White opt for in the No 1 jersey? Van Rooyen and Gqoboka are the seniors, but Steenekamp has been the in-form Bulls loosehead throughout the season.

White, though, seldom goes against experience, so Van Rooyen is probably the favourite to start.

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