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Rugby

Leinster showdown a Boks audition for dynamic Bulls duo

───   09:32 Thu, 13 Jun 2024

Leinster showdown a Boks audition for dynamic Bulls duo | News Article
Johan Grobbelaar. Photo: Inpho

“I think every South African player dreams of playing for the Springboks. But my focus is to play well every weekend and if I can do that week in and week out, and if I deserve a chance, I will get one.”

The chefs have been sorted from the cooks in the 2023/24 United Rugby Championship, and on Saturday the Bulls host Leinster in a semi-final that plates a delectable appetiser to the upcoming Test series between South Africa and Ireland. 

Johan Grobbelaar and David Kriel are two Bulls stars who, on the back of standout performances in the league this season, were shoo-ins to make their Springbok debuts against Wales at Twickenham next week.

Accelerating the Bulls to victory over Benetton in last week’s URC quarter-final at Loftus Versfeld pumped the brakes on Grobbelaar and Kriel’s dream of a Bok debut in London, but the duo can justify the sacrifice with a performance against Leinster that drives the Highveld heavyweights into the Grand Final.

‘The Bulls boast the league’s second-ranked lineout’

Grobbelaar has been a model of consistency at hooker in nine starts for the Bulls, including the quarter-final against Benetton.

The 26-year-old packs a punch as a ball-carrier and his set-piece work is of a very high standard – the Bulls boast the league’s second-ranked lineout.

The hosts are this season’s most prolific try-scoring team. Grobbelaar has equalled the Springbok phenomenon Kurt-Lee Arendse’s tally of eight touchdowns, illustrating the power and efficiency of the Bulls’ maul.

‘My focus is to play well every weekend’

Grobbelaar earned a first Springbok call-up during the 2021 Rugby Championship, but has since had to bide his time for a Test debut behind a talented core of hookers including Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx.

“I think every South African player dreams of playing for the Springboks,” he said.

“But my focus is to play well every weekend and if I can do that week in and week out, and if I deserve a chance, I will get one.”

Competing for the Bulls’ No 2 jersey, against all-action veteran Akker van der Merwe and up-and-comer Jan-Hendrik Wessels, has kept Grobbelaar on his toes.

‘We are pushing and learning from each other’

“The three of us are a good combination,” he said. “We are pushing and learning from each other. It makes for a good environment.”

Kriel has mirrored Grobbelaar's consistency in the Bulls backline. Deployed as a utility back after moving to Pretoria from Cape Town for the 2021-22 campaign, Kriel has specialised as a centre this season, exclusively playing in the No 12 or 13 jerseys and scoring 11 tries in 18 appearances.

“I really enjoy centre – either 12 or 13,” Kriel said.

“I don’t mind either of the two centre jumpers, and it is my favourite position because of the involvement in attack and defence.

‘I get a bit more freedom and get to make better reads’

“Especially 12 is a more physical position, but at 13 I get a bit more freedom and get to make better reads, which I also feel is very good for the growth of my game.”

Both Grobbelaar and Kriel earned plaudits when they helped the Bulls produce one of the biggest upsets in the history of the URC by beating Leinster in Dublin in the 2021-22 semi-finals.

The dynamic duo has built on that memorable day, emerging as serious contenders for a place in Rassie Erasmus’ long-term plans to guide the Springboks towards a third successive World Cup title, and short-term objectives of beating Wales before hosting Ireland for two Tests in July.

While Grobbelaar and Kriel have given up on the chance to join the Boks in London next week, they are relishing the spotlight that will be cast on Loftus Versfeld on Saturday against the world-class Leinster.

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