Springbok utility back and two-time World Cup winner, Willie le Roux, will make his debut for the Vodacom Bulls who return to “Fortress Loftus” looking to slay Connacht who visit the capital in round six of the 2023/24 Vodacom United Rugby Championship. Jake White’s herd has seen six rotational shuffles made to the starting XV with two more changes in personnel on the bench for the clash set for Saturday 25 November, at 17h00.
Le Roux will lace his boots and line up at fullback with the centre-pairing of David Kriel and Stedman Gans in front of him. Once more, ‘Speed Kings’ Sergeal Petersen and Sebastian de Klerk will command the herd on the wings whilst scrumhalf Zak Burger and Jaco van der Walt (flyhalf) will marshal the troops at halfback.
Up ahead, the front row is assembled with Gerhard Steenekamp at loosehead prop alongside Akker van der Merwe at hooker with Wilco Louw at tighthead prop. Behind the power-packing trio will be the lock combination of Reinhardt Ludwig and captain Ruan Nortje in the second row. Versatile flanker, Marco ‘Eskom’ van Staden returns to the fold and will start at flank alongside Elrigh Louw to his right with Nizaam Carr at eight.
Director of Rugby, Jake White has assembled an impact squad comprising five forwards Simphiwe Matanzima, Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Mornay Smith, Janko Swanepoel, Cyle Brink and three backline players Embrose Papier, Chris Smith and young World Champion, Canan ‘Mr. Magic’ Moodie.
Gates at Loftus will open from 14h00 in the afternoon with plenty of entertainment for the entire family at the Loftus Markert on the D-field.
When asked about whether or not his selections were made with the Sharks game in mind, White commented: “I am not thinking about the Sharks game yet (taking place on Saturday 02 December 2023) because we have to get this Connacht game out the way.”
On the opposition, the Vodacom Bulls mentor said: “They are a good team. You do not go to Durban and win there, especially after they had just flown in. They are certainly one of the most in-form teams at the moment. I know Andy Friend well, and I think they have changed a few things. They are a difficult team to beat, and they beat us by playing direct rugby when we played them away from home. We saw it again when they played last week, once they get closer to the try line, they go for it.
“Their result against the Sharks will give them a big confidence coming up to Loftus. However, we must not get sucked into that but rather focus and do what we need to do from our side!”
White was beaming with excitement when asked about getting the opportunity to see Willie le Roux in action, calling for the Loftus community to back him and the incredible knowledge he brings.
“I have never coached him, but I watched him play back in the day in Boland as an under-19 and never realised he would end up being what he is now. I read on social media what people say about him and just cannot believe what I see. He has only been here for a week, but it feels like he has been here for six months, he is unbelievable. He is like having a coach there. He is very clever and extremely skilful; I cannot wait for tomorrow to see how he goes because I am sure people will see just the value that he has.”
“To all the critics, I ask that you lay it off because he is probably one of the best if not the best player to have played for the Boks and if he is not the best then he is definitely the cleverest.”
White went on to add: “The guy is unbelievable, and I cannot believe it has only been a week. Even when he was at the World Cup he was asking for the defensive and attacking plays, wanting to understand what we are doing and now that he is here it feels like he has been here for a whole season. I can now understand why he gets picked week in and week out. In one week, I can’t believe what he has been able to do. It is like having a coach there, a coach who understands the game. I did hear this from the other players before arriving here, Canan (Moodie), Kurt-Lee (Arendse), Marco (van Staden) all said he is unbelievable to play alongside and now I see it too. Hopefully everybody else sees it too.”
Asked about the Vodacom Bulls Boks returning to play, White commented: “It’s a wonderful thing for us, they returned and were asking to play. Marco was saying he can’t wait to play, so it’s great for us – the excitement and energy they bring is nice.”
Speaking on Marcell’s suspension and how that influences selection: “I went to his hearing, wanting to see how it works out, but I obviously did not get involved. It would be difficult for them (the hearing committee) to go in there and not back their referee because then that would say they do not back the ref. It is not ideal, but it is the nature of what we have to deal with now. The blooding in of young guys, a year later, has given me and this team more confidence that even if we do not stick with the same guys. It’s also good to not stick with one group of players because it doesn’t do well for the other guys not on the field.”
VODACOM BULLS vs CONNACHT STARTING XV:
1. Gerhard Steenekamp, 2. Akker van der Merwe, 3. Wilco Louw, 4. Reinhardt Ludwig, 5. Ruan Nortje (c), 6. Marco van Staden, 7. Elrigh Louw, 8. Nizaam Carr, 9. Zak Burger, 10. Jaco van der Walt, 11. Sergeal Petersen, 12. David Kriel, 13. Stedman Gans, 14. Sebastian de Klerk, 15. Willie le Roux
VODACOM BULLS IMPACT SQUAD:
16. Simphiwe Matanzima, 17. Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 18. Mornay Smith, 19. Janko Swanepoel, 20. Cyle Brink, 21. Embrose Papier, 22. Chris Smith, 23. Canan Moodie
Jake White – Director of Rugby, Chris Rossouw – Assistant Coach, Werner Kruger – Assistant Coach, Gary Gold – Assistant Coach, Andries Bekker – Assistant Coach, Jean Tiedt – Assistant Coach, Kennedy Tsimba – Assistant Coach, Phiwe Nomlomo – Assistant Coach, John-William Meyer – Technical Analyst, Dr. Gerhard Louwrens – Team Doctor, Lance Lemmetjies – Senior Physiotherapist, Darryn Berry – Physiotherapist, Andre Volsteedt – Strength & Conditioning, Yusuf Vahed – Sport Scientist, Elias Bennett – Team Manager, Simon Dyidi – Logistics Manager