- Ruan Nortje has emerged as an indispensable member of Jake White's Bulls pack.
- So dramatically has the 22-year-old lock improved that it's strange to think he was under pressure when the former Bok coach was re-working his squad.
- White believes Nortje plays similarly to Springbok stalwart Franco Mostert.
In the thick of Jake White's Bulls recruitment spree earlier this year, it's eminently possible that Ruan Nortje would've felt uneasy about his future at Loftus.
Lanky but lacking some beef, the 22-year-old looked up against it.
He wasn't released like prominent stalwarts such as Burger Odendaal and Jaco Visagie, but it was widely known he had to pull out the stops for White.
As the Bulls travel to Newlands to open their Currie Cup campaign as the Super Rugby Unlocked champions, it's become a ridiculous thought.
Nortje has been outstanding, combining his already well-honed lineout organisation skills with brutality to his ball-carrying ability that's really caught the eye.
White mentioned earlier in the Unlocked campaign that his former Baby Bok second-rower bulked up significantly, an instruction he gave him during the lockdown and a testament to his commitment.
Nortje has truly become the all-action enforcer of the Bulls' pack.
"He reminds me so much of Franco Mostert," said White, which is rather neat because Nortje himself stated at the start of the year that he models his game on the Springbok lock.
"In fact, Ruan's output is on par with guys like Franco or Pieter-Steph du Toit. His work rate is immense. I'm looking forward to what he does this weekend.
"After all, we're playing against the lock combination that's been dubbed the new Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield (Salmaan Moerat and JD Schickerling), so it's going to be a stern test."
Ominously for future opponents, White has no qualms pointing out that Nortje is going get better and better, both from skills and physical perspective.
"He's grown, physically and mentally. Ruan's a young guy, so it was inevitable that his body would undergo some changes. That's how it works," said White.
"He's becoming bigger and stronger. The amount of on-field work he gets through is unbelievable, his involvements - cleans, carries, tackles, lineout drives and takes - are always conducting at 100% intensity.
"He's just going to get better."
Kick-off in the North-South derby is at 19:00.
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Angelo Davids, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Salmaaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Substitutes (from): 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Kwenzo Blose, 19 Neethling Fouche, 20 David Meihuizen, 21 Chris van Zyl, 22 Jaco Coetzee, 23 Marcel Theunissen, 24 Godlen Masimla, 25 Tim Swiel, 26 Ruhan Nel
15 David Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Substitutes: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Clinton Swart, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren