Injury blues plays havoc with Marais’ Bulls plan
Outgoing Bulls coach Nollis Marais finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place in a battle for self-preservation and the greater good of his employers.
Already condemned to life as a Currie Cup coach after a dismal two-year spell in Super Rugby that ended in him getting the axe, Marais was eager to use the Bulls’ last three Super Rugby matches – against the Sharks, Southern Kings and Stormers – to blood some of the players he will have at his disposal for the domestic season.
However, injuries have wreaked havoc with his plans and Marais will now resort to salvaging whatever little pride is left in his last few days as head coach of the Super Rugby side before former All Blacks coach John Mitchell takes over at Loftus Versfeld.
Any chance of the Bulls making the play-offs long disappeared prior to the June international break after they were at the receiving end of heavy defeats at the hands of the Crusaders and Lions while losses to the Highlanders and Hurricanes further compounded their dire situation as they languish in eighth place in the South African Group which is made up of nine teams in two pools.
Injuries to some promising youngsters means Marais will again have to rely on the same under-performing players that have been at the root of him getting the chop.
Marais’ biggest problem is that many of the players he has utilised in Super Rugby this year won’t be available for the Currie Cup competition due to national duty commitments and contracts with Japan-based clubs.
The Bulls will need to find new locks with Lood de Jager certain to be with the Springboks in the Rugby Championship while RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins are heading off to Japan. Flyhalf is also another area of concern with Handré Pollard struggling with injuries but is likely to be roped into the national team while Tian Schoeman will be heading for France at the end of the season leaving Tony Jantjies, and the little experienced Josh Stander and Tinus de Beer to choose from. There is a crisis looming at hooker with captain Adriaan Strauss not available to play Currie Cup rugby in terms of his contract while Edgar Marutlulle underwent an ankle operation and is out for at least two months with Jaco Visagie the only experienced No 2 in senior rugby. “I will have to go with the best players available for the last three games. The Currie Cup will have to wait but that first game against Griquas will be a massive challenge because we will be playing with a brand new team,” said Marais.
Marais remains hopeful that something good can come out of their clash against the Sharks in Durban on Friday especially with all his national team players available.
With the likes of Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel featuring prominently for the Springboks while Warrick Gelant, Jason Jenkins and Trevor Nyakane also putting in good performances for the SA ‘A’ side, Marais is holding on to the hope that the confidence from the national teams infiltrates into his side.
“It is a good thing that all these guys played really well,” Marais said. “I want this team to play good rugby and win. It is about looking at the bigger picture.”