Raw but intriguing: Bulls boast a treasure trove of centres

Stedman Gans
Stedman Gans
  • Despite the excitement generated by their prudent recruitment, concerns have been raised over the Bulls' midfield depth.
  • Director of rugby Jake White has offloaded all his senior centres and only brought in the experienced Clinton Swart.
  • However, White's gamble seems justified as he is making use of the Bulls' band of high-profile young centres who are expected to adapt to senior rugby better than most of their peers.

One of the ironies of the South African rugby fraternity is that, despite continually touting the promotion of younger players, it's quite quick to change its tune when too many rookies are thrown in at the deep end.

It's certainly the case when it comes to the midfield stocks at Loftus.

While the Bulls' impressive but prudent recruitment has generated much excitement, questions have been raised over director of rugby Jake White's decision to clean out his centres.

Springbok stalwart Jesse Kriel had already indicated at the end of 2019 he was leaving for Japan and has been followed out the door by Burger Odendaal, Nafi Tuitavake, Johnny Kotze, Dylan Sage and Franco Naude this year.

In other words, before the experienced Clinton Swart's arrival a fortnight ago, White had no senior centres in his playing group. 

Yet, given the constraints of SA Rugby's new contracting model, the World Cup-winning former Springbok coach has taken a calculated gamble.

He has invested in outside players in areas that needed strengthening while making full use of a band of high-profile young centres.  

Promoting youth is a process that becomes far smoother when you potentially have the best in the business.

Here are the men White has at his disposal in midfield.

CLINTON SWART (27)

There's no mystery why the former Cheetahs player has been enlisted.

Swart, who is equally adept at flyhalf, is a solid, versatile option with excellent place-kicking ability.

More importantly, he was a key player for White during their association at Toyota Verblitz. 

"He's an expressive and hard-running player with an immense work rate. Having worked with him and coached him before, he knows perfectly well what I expect of him," said the Bulls mentor.

STEDMAN GANS (23)

He is diminutive but also possesses the sizeable pedigree of being the Blitzboks' current captain.

A former Junior Springbok, Gans doesn't initially come to mind when one thinks of a White-type midfielder. 

But his superb running lines and exposure to the defensive challenges of the sevens format arguably makes him the more nippy, mercurial playmaker his coach needs in a midfield crowded with more robust talents.

With proper backing, Gans could make a pretty seamless transition back to fifteens.

DIEGO APPOLLIS (19)

Hailing from Wellington, Appollis was scouted before his high school career commenced and joined Garsfontein, where he became one of South Africa's most high-profile school talents.

While height isn't quite on his side, he's known for relentlessly striving for better conditioning and boasts a powerful, 91kg punch in the collisions - as a junior athlete he shone in the long jump and javelin during the 2015 junior national athletics championship.

Appollis broke into the Bulls' senior ranks last year already and will be keen to build on that platform.

DAWID KELLERMAN (20)

The Covid-19 pandemic prevented this 1.85m, 96kg juggernaut from being one of the Baby Boks' stars at the annual Junior World Championships.

Various observers have noted that his body is already more than primed for senior rugby and, upon the side's return to training two weeks ago, won the gruelling "Bronco test", where players have to run shuttles over 20m, 40m and 60m five times as quickly as they can.

But Kellerman's experience at junior sevens level also illustrates his vast range of attacking skills - he's a proper "baller".

MARNUS POTGIETER (21)

The former Affies star announced himself to a wider audience last year with a brilliant hat-trick in an Under-20 international against a feisty and accomplished Argentina.

He showed some true predatory finishing skills and then went on to become a key member of the squad at the Junior Championships, forming an imposing midfield combination with Stormers rookie Rikus Pretorius.

Potgieter is a sturdy ball-carrier with a surprising turn of pace and reminds one of a Loftus legend in Wynand Olivier.

JAY-CEE NEL (21)

Nel was in the frame for Junior Springbok selection for last year's World Championships and initially formed a combination with Potgieter.

He showed some nimble touches but didn't make the cut.

After a few appearances on the wing for SuperSport Challenge side and an intermittent role in the Blue Bulls' triumphant Under-21 campaign, Nel has returned with vigour in 2020 and focused on playing outside centre, impressing to such an extent that was quite close to a Super Rugby debut. 

WIAN VAN NIEKERK  (22)

Tuks' stalwart captain flies a bit under the radar when it comes to the Bulls' hierarchy but he's still on the books and, given the relative blank slate of White's tenure, could easily still stake a claim.

Van Niekerk reminds of Damian de Allende, an imposing midfielder who relishes contact and enjoys creating momentum for those outside of him.

But he also has the ability to produce moments of sublime skill, like nifty offloads and is a solid defender.

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