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The Waratahs are re-enacting the Hundred Year War. This week, they take their spiritual secularism vs literal traditionalism squad to quite a religious, and brutally physical venue: Loftus Versfeld, in the thin air, on hard ground, and will face trials and tribulations.
Perhaps the defining parable will be the mini-battle between grizzled demi-god and Bok-Bull No.8 Thor, whose theology was hammered out in the year 1150, before commercializing into Marvels of a modern sort, and country boy Ned, floppy-haired, loose-limbed, and pressed into service at the base.
Hanigan may need to pray he has plenty of help. Vermeulen drops back to field box kicks in Pote Human’s system, and gets a bit of steam as he charges into chasers. But Ned probably has Thor at the back of the lineout, and can lap him in a sprint.
Israel Folau having been censored out of Union for being too persistent with his eschatological calumny, it falls to the prince-Speedo-amigo Kurtley Beale (who may have ticked all but one of Folau’s boxes) to defuse the aerial bombs of Ivan van Zyl, Handre Pollard, and Warrick Gelant.
Hint to Beale: don’t try to run many back. Play rugby ping pong. The Bulls have a ravaging pack, and will find you; Marco van Staden is a poor man’s Pocock, Thor still gets over the ball, and RG Snyman smiles at Wallabies.
Springbok incumbent Jesse Kriel breaks hearts (and feet), so he is in hospital with buxom nurses; his vital 13 jersey will be worn by Johnny Kotze, a rugby player whose brain often repels knowledge.
The Tahs should probably find the Bulls 13-14 and 13-11 channels, because Cornal Hendricks never saw a tackle he liked, Rosco Specman is an offensive specialist, and Kotze is wild.
If Adam Ashley-Cooper, a superhero in his day, wants to impress Michael Cheika, this is an auspicious time. The Bulls backline looks porous outside of Pollard and Burger Odendaal.
Nic Phipps and Bernard Foley are not known for their tactical kicking. But that is precisely what is needed: accuracy from the boot. Pollard and van Zyl have massive hang time on their punts.
The Waratah pack, having just been bullied by the Sharks forwards, won’t particularly enjoy this Bull pack. Snyman, Vermuelen, Hanro Liebenberg, van Staden, and Lizo Gqoboka are bone-crushing tacklers, and Trevor Nyakane is scrumming to get to Japan.
Rob Simmons is still a premier lineout operator, Harry Johnson-Holmes shows some venom, and Hooper is a gun, according to Nick Bishop. So it’ll not be one-way traffic.
This is a classic boxer versus puncher duel, forward-orientated (relax, Izzy) versus back, and home versus away.
Bulls by 7-10.
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15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Substitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Dylan Sage
15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Ned Hanigan, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes
Substitutes: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Hugh Sinclair, 20 Will Miller, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Alex Newsome