Johannesburg — The Bulls have made no bones about it: They will field their strongest possible team against the Stormers later this week — if Jake White is to be believed — and the Cape-based side will have to consider their options quite carefully when they pick their matchday 23 for the encounter.
It’s not like White has been entirely transparent in recent weeks regarding his team selection.
Before their narrow victory over Lyon in the Heineken Champions Cup, the Bulls mentor floused — deceived if you will — all and sundry when he spoke convincingly about fielding his best team for the tournament, only to select fringe players for that match and then also the subsequent defeat away to Exeter Chiefs this past weekend.
He could be playing similar mind games this week, if such a strategy could yield a unexpected and successful result but it is more than likely that he will indeed field his first-choice XV at Cape Town Stadium at 7.15pm on Friday in a massive United Rugby Championship encounter.
That does leave the Stormers with a bit of a conundrum.
In their recent matches in the Champions Cup they have played their strongest outfit, or as near to one that they could afford. It ensured a successful start to their campaign as they beat both Clermont and more recently London Irish away and home, respectively.
So, the big question is: Will they play that team, or will they be forced to take a more conservative approach to give several players a well-deserved rest in an effort to manage the squad for the next six weeks?
Anyone hoping for answers so early in the build-up to the match, will have to look elsewhere as the Stormers are holding their cards close to their chest. Nevertheless, they remain confident that they will be able to dodge any spanner the Bulls attempt to throw into their works.
“We will have to wait and see on Friday night,” said Stormers assistant coach Rito Hlungwani coyly on Monday.
“We have our own plans, the Bulls have theirs. We back our plans … We are quite confident and happy with how we have prepared and with our plans over the past couple of weeks.
“We don’t know who is going to run out of that tunnel on the weekend,” he added, “but we must make sure that we are nice and ready to face whoever comes out there.”
It would seem, however, that the Stormers will do so without the services of Springbok Salmaan Moerat. The lock hobbled off early during the second half against London Irish, and Hlungwani believes it will see him miss the clash.
Moreover, there were suggestions after that clash, that an injury crisis would hamper the Stormers for the remainder of the year. That, however, does not seem to be entirely the case.
Leolin Zas and Ruhan Nel, who both also left the field injured this past weekend, have better prognoses but have not yet been cleared to play. Bok Evan Roos, meanwhile, has also returned to training this week.
“The only big challenge is Salmaat with a suspected knee injury,” Hlungwani admitted.
“He obviously didn’t train (on Monday) and the doctors will still give us a final diagnosis. It is not looking too good there.
“Zas and Ruhan were running around in training and we will still see if they are completely fit. I don’t think that they are injuries that are worth missing a game. Slamaat will probably not make it this weekend.”
“(Moerat) is a big loss,” Hlungwani continued, particularly as it leaves the Stormers with a dearth of options at lock, “it is never easy when we lose a Bok player.
“Salmaan does really well for us, but it is a part of rugby. As much as we cannot play Salmaan, there are guys who are ready and willing to take the opportunity to wear that No 4 jersey and, hopefully, put their hands up so when Salmaan does come back, he will have to fight for it.
“I think we have created enough depth with one or two youngsters (such as Gary Porter or Ben-Jason Dixon) to come in and wear that No 4 jersey.”