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Jake White has made minimal forced changes to his side that will engage with Leinster in the “test match like” semi-final of the 2023/24 Vodacom United Rugby Championship, at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday 15 June.

More than 22 000 tickets have been issued with the remaining available via Ticketpro (only) from as little as R 50.00c.

  • 22 798 tickets out on the market
  • Cornel Smit to make his franchise debut
  • Marco van Staden starts, but Marcel Coetzee misses out
  • Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie & Sebastian de Klerk are out with injuries
  • Devon Williams and Sergeal Petersen step into left and right wing, respectively

The Vodacom Bulls director of rugby has brought in Marco van Staden, Devon Williams, Cornel Smit and Sergeal Petersen into the matchday 23 as he juggles squad balance and injuries ahead of a club test match against an Irish international side.

“I am lucky enough that I have rotated my squad enough times this season that bringing in anyone into the match will not feel like we are throwing them into the deep end, they have had game time and the match fitness required at this level,” says White at the team press conference.

On his opponents, White says; “They (Leinster) hold onto the ball and if you are just comfortable giving them the ball, they will keep it for 20 phases and we have to find a way to get it back. We also have to be accurate at the breakdown,”

He adds: “We are going to have a go and we will not die wondering.”

Upfront Gerhard Steenekamp (loose head), Johan Grobbelaar (hooker) and Wilco Louw (tight head) lead the pack with Ruan Vermaak and captain, Ruan Nortje at lock. Marco van Staden slots at openside with Elrigh Louw on the blind side and Cameron Hanekom on eighth-man duties.

On Marco’s return, the Vodacom Bulls mentor says: “It is nice to have him back; he has the experience, has played at a World Cup and he wants to play. I am sure (that) he also wants to play in two weeks (in the sold-out Springboks vs Ireland test match at Loftus),”

At the back, Embrose Papier at scrumhalf, combines with Johan Goosen at flyhalf and the two halfbacks link up a backline featuring Devon Williams at left wing and Sergeal Petersen on the right side of the fortress. Harold Vorster and David Kriel combine once more at inside and outside centre respectively, with Willie Le Roux at fullback.

Cornel Smit forms part of a five-three split bench alongside Akker van der Merwe, Simphiwe Matanzima, Francois Klopper, Reinhardt Ludwig, Jannes Kirsten, Keagan Johannes, Chris Smith and Sergeal Petersen.

The utility back, who arrived at Loftus on loan, is set to make his club debut from the impact squad, a role White believes will become instrumental in an intense 80-minute game.

“Cornel has trained well for us every time and it was always a matter of when he would get the opportunity. Now he gets the chance against an Irish backline and this is what Sport is all about. He is excited, has been around, played SA Schools and he is quick and he adds a different dimension for us and he is good under the high ball and skilful with the boot as well,”

“The guys who will come off the impact squad will be important for us in a game where we will have to fight for 80 minutes because this Leinster side is a quality team that took Toulouse to extra time.”

White adds: “This is probably the biggest club game we have had in a really long time. This Leinster side has 25 internationals, a World Cup-winning coach and a team that is desperate to win. Their current group of players has played at the World Cup, three European Cup finals, they have played in VURC playoffs and they have played and won the Six Nations. All they have done over the last three years is switch the colour of their jerseys, blue this week and green the next,”

“That is where we want to be as a franchise too, where it does not matter who starts and who is on the bench and we are not there yet; but, the nice thing about sport is there is no given on who should win and who shouldn’t and we have all been in situations where you think a guy didn’t have a chance but ends up winning.”

VODACOM BULLS vs LEINSTER RUGBY STARTING XV: 1. Gerhard Steenekamp, 2. Johan Grobbelaar, 3. Wilco Louw, 4. Ruan Vermaak, 5. Ruan Nortje (c), 6. Marco van Staden, 7. Elrigh Louw, 8. Cameron Hanekom, 9. Embrose Papier, 10. Johan Goosen, 11. Devon Williams, 12. Harold Vorster, 13. David Kriel, 14. Sergeal Petersen, 15. Willie Le Roux

VODACOM BULLS IMPACT SQUAD: 16. Akker van der Merwe, 17. Simphiwe Matanzima, 18. Francois Klopper, 19. Reinhardt Ludwig, 20. Nizaam Carr, 21. Keagan Johannes, 22. Chris Smith, 23. Cornel Smit

MANAGEMENT: 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. Herman Rossouw – Team Doctor, Lance Lammetjies – Physiotherapist, Andre Volsteedt – Strength & Conditioning, Yusuf Vahed – Sport Scientist, Elias Bennett – Team Manager, Simon Dyidi – Logistics Manager

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