Bulls now take their orders in English
It may have taken 75 years, but the Vodacom Blue Bulls will face Western Province with their first English-speaking captain in the Absa Currie Cup series this Saturday.
Former St Stithians headboy Jonno Ross will lead a young and inexperienced side into battle against DHL Western Province in Cape Town to open their 2013 domestic campaign, and will have his work cut out for him with a young team.
Ross becomes the first English-speaking player to lead the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup – and the third English-speaking player ever. The first, Roger Sheriff, played way back in 1938 when the Blue Bulls were founded, while Billy Griffiths was the only other non-Afrikaner to lead the side. But neither was in a Currie Cup game.
Ross is no stranger to leadership, and captained UP-Tuks in the Varsity Cup after being snapped up from the Golden Lions Academy side a few years back.
Since then he has been a regular at Vodacom Cup level, and spent a season at Saracens to hone his skills before returning home this season.
Even though the milestone may surprise many, Ross has played it down, and is looking for his teammates to make a bigger statement of their own this weekend in Cape Town.
“There are a lot of guys going away, so it is time for the young guys to take the step up,” he said at the team announcement. “Luckily you don’t take your ID book onto the field. When you go out there you need to step up.”
While many have written the Blue Bulls’ chances off because of their youth, Ross isn’t at all worried, and believes this side will “create something from within” to prove a point to their detractors.
The Bulls team has a very youthful look to it, with no fewer than four players making their Currie Cup debuts for the side.
Former Junior Boks Travis Ismaiel, Tony Jantjies, Jacques du Plessis and Wiaan Liebenberg will all start for the first time, with Ismaiel, Jantjies and Liebenberg all returning to the field where they won the IRB Junior World Championship in 2012.
Paul Willemse, Callie Visagie (both MTN Golden Lions), Waylon Murray (EP Kings) and Marcel van der Merwe (Toyota Free State Cheetahs) will make their Currie Cup debuts for the Blue Bulls, but have played for other teams earlier in their careers.
Only five players – Francois Venter, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Frik Kirsten, Willie Wepener and Mornè Mellett – remain from the team that played in the Blue Bulls' last Currie Cup match in 2012, the semifinal against The Sharks in Durban.
“We are excited about the potential of our team. We do have a lot of younger players and Newlands is a severe test to even an experienced player, but if ever there was a time to justify the structures and depth at the union, this it is,” coach Pine Pienaar said.
“We have a lot of faith in our structures and the younger players have all proved themselves. There is also a good core of experience, so we are looking forward to a good Currie Cup season.
"To start away against the defending champions is a very tough ask, but if we want to reach the top, we must embrace and accept all challenges,” Pienaar said.
VODACOM BLUE BULLS: Jürgen Visser, Sampie Mastriet, Ulrich Beyers, Francois Venter, Travis Ismaiel, Tony Jantjies, Rudy Paige, Jono Ross(c), Jacques du Plessis, Wiaan Liebenberg, Grant Hattingh, Paul Willemse, Frik Kirsten, Willie Wepener, Morné Mellet.
Replacements: Callie Visagie, Marcel van der Merwe, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Jean Cook, Ruan Snyman, Waylon Murray, Clayton Blommetjies.