Bulls who broke out the kraal XV
SPOTLIGHT: It was obvious that there would have been – as there is every four years – a massive clean-out (or exodus) of top players after a World Cup year.
And the Bulls were not spared post-2011, which effectively ended whatever hope they had to immediately add to the three Super Rugby titles they won (2007, 2009 and 2010).
The departure – going abroad or through retirement – of players like Wynand Olivier, Francois Hougaard, Morné Steyn, Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Gary Botha, Gurthrö Steenkamp Flip van der Merwe and Pedrie Wannenburg was to be expected.
What they did not anticipate was that the ‘rebuilding’ would continue for nearly a decade, as the trickle became a torrent.
Even the coaches got on the merry-go-round – Frans Ludeke (who won titles in 2009 and 2010, after taking over from Heyneke Meyer, 2007) was followed by Nollis Marais, John Mitchell and Pote Human, soon to be followed by Jake White.
We select a team from players who departed post-2011 and pre-2019 – to see exactly how much talent escaped from the Bulls’ kraal!
It does not include the departure of 2019 World Cup-winners like Schalk Brits (retired), Lodewyk de Jager, Jason Jenkins, Eli Snyman, Rudolph Snyman, Duane Vermeulen and Handré Pollard.
Have we missed anybody?
(Continue reading below video …)
15 – Zane Kirchner
The Springbok regular (between 2009 and 2015) departed the Bulls for Irish province Leinster in 2013, after more than 120 games for the Bulls in Super Rugby and Currie Cup, with his debut for the Pretoria-based franchise having been back in 2008. He first made his mark as an attacking force for Griquas in the Currie Cup. Back-up: Clayton Blommetjies and Jürgen Visser.
14 – Akona Ndungane
Akona Zilindlovu Ndungane, the twin brother of Odwa Mzuzo Ndungane, retired in 2015, after nearly 200 games for the Bulls in a decade-long stay since 2005. He finished with 11 Test caps for his country and this dependable wing started his career with the Mighty Elephants in 2003, while he also played for the Border Bulldogs in 2004 and 2005. Back-up: Sampie Mastriet, Rabz Maxwane and Luther Obi.
13 – William Small-Smith
One of a host of former South African schools centres signed by the Bulls that left a host of them unsatisfied as a result of a lack of game time. Arrived in Pretoria in 2011 and while he made his first-class debut that year, did not make his Super Rugby debut till 2014. He played just seven games in two seasons and it was not a surprise that he returned to the Cheetahs in 2016. Back-up: Waylon Murray and Johannes Engelbrecht.
12 – Jan Serfontein
Another of the many SA Schools and Baby Bok midfielders to be lured to Pretoria. Unlike most other his was a regular starter between 2012 and 2017, making 70-odd appearances. His time at Montpellier has been marked by injuries and prevented him from being part of the 2019 World Cup squad. Back-up: Francois Venter, Johann Sadie and Dan Kriel.
11 – Bjorn Basson
Joined the Bulls in 2011, off the back of a record-breaking 21 tries for Griquas in the 2010 Currie Cup season. Made more than 100 appearances before moving on in 2017 – first to the Stormers and Western Province, the Oyonnax, Southern Kings, Griquas and more recently Enisei-. Back-up: Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ismaiel and Duncan Matthews.
10 – Lionel Cronjé
Arguably one of the most talented flyhalves never to fulfil his promise. He was involved at the Cheetahs and Stormers before arriving in Pretoria in 2012. It was a very brief and unhappy stay, before he hit the road – Lions, Brumbies, Sharks, Southern Kings and Verblitz. Back-up: Louis Fouché, Jacques-Louis Potgieter and Tian Schoeman.
9 – Francois Hougaard
Played in three games for Western Province in 2007, before joining the Bulls. He spent eight seasons at the Pretoria-based team (130-odd games), before he joined Worcester Warriors in 2016. Done a great injustice by being shuffled between scrumhalf and wing, with some of his best performances on the international stage coming at No.11. Back-up: Piet van Zyl and André Warner.
8 – Jono Ross
A product of the Lions junior structures – schooled St Stithians College – then joined the Bulls in 2010. First played for their youth teams and made his senior debut in 2011. Me more than 50 appearances in Super Rugby and Currie Cup, before he moved to Stade Français in 2014. He joined Sale Sharks in 2017 and is one of nine South Africans in the team. The others are Armand van der Merwe, Coenie Oosthuizen, Lodewyk de Jager, Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Francois de Klerk, Robert du Preez and Rohan Janse van Rensburg. Back-up: Jacques Engelbrecht, Gerrit-Jan van Velze, Jean Cook and Renaldo Bothma.
7 – Jacques Potgieter
For explanation, in South Africa No.7 represents the blindside flank and No.6 the openside. This is a position in where most of the departures took place – international quality players. A product of the Eastern Cape, he first made name for himself when (after two Currie Cup games for the Sharks) with some fiery performances for the Eastern Province Kings. He moved to Pretoria in 2011 and his fine form saw him earn three Springbok caps in 2012. By 2014, after falling out of favour with the national selectors, he move to Sydney and played with great success for the Waratahs for two seasons. He then moved to Japan. Back-up: Pieter Labuschagné, Wimpie van der Walt, Thembelani Bholi and Jannes Kirsten.
6 – Christiaan Stander
His departure still rankles with many in and outside Pretoria. He left, having played more than 60 games in Currie Cup and Super Rugby, when Standers was reportedly asked to move to hooker. He decided that Ireland is a better option. As they say, South Africa’s loss is Ireland’s gain. Not only does he have more than 40 Irish caps, he has also been capped by the British and Irish Lions. Back-up: Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Jacques du Plessis and Roelof Smit.
5 – Juandré Kruger
Born and schooled in the Western Cape, he arrived in Pretoria in 2008 – having made five appearances for Western Province the previous season. Regarded as one of the most promising second row forwards, he was stuck behind Victor Matfield and spent a couple of seasons at Northampton Saints. Returned to the Bulls in 2010 and played in 17 Tests in 2012 and 2013. His departure to France at the end of 2013 effectively ended his international career. Since his return in 2019, it appears he has lost the drive that made him such a promising lock a decade ago. We did not name Victor Matfield, even though he came out of retirement in 2014, as he returned mainly for the World Cup in 2015. Back-up: Cornell Hess, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Irné Herbst, Nico Janse van Rensburg and Marvin Orie.
4 – Flip van der Merwe
The departure of Ruben van Heerden is rankling with Pretoria insiders as much as the Christiaan Stander situation does. However, we are opting for Van der Merwe, because at the time of his departure to Clermont in 2015 he had already played 37 Tests for the Springboks – with his debut in 2010. Born in Potchefstroom and schooled at Grey College, Bloemfontein, he played 40-odd games for the Cheetahs and Free State before moving to Pretoria in 2009. Back-up: Grant Hattingh, David Bulbring and Paul Willemse.
3 – Werner Kruger
As stated above, the exodus of international quality forwards from Pretoria lasted a lot longer than anticipated. A thoroughbred in the kraal, he played more than 250 games for the Bulls in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby competitions – a stalwart in the two of the title-winning teams. Many thought he should have played more than just four Tests. Frik Kirsten deserves a special mention – having been forced into retirement aged 26 as a result of a neck injury – after having represented his country at various age-group levels and earmarked as a future Springbok. Back-up: Rayno Gerber, Hencus van Wyk, Marcel van der Merwe.
2 – Mbongeni Mbonambi
In Pretoria, they have a habit of letting promising players go. Schooled at St. Alban’s College (situated in the Pretoria suburb of Lynnwood Glen) he came through the Bulls’ youth ranks and played 40-odd games (nearly 20 in Super Rugby) between 2012 and 2014. Joined the Stormers in 2015 and having been given plenty of game time and opportunity to improve his shortcomings (there were some serious issues) we all know the quality of the performances Mbongeni Theo Mbonambi produced for the Springboks at the World Cup last year. Back-up: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Bandise Maku, Adriaan Strauss.
1 – Dean Greyling
As an accomplished prop, the product of Pretoria played in more than 150 Currie Cup and Super Rugby games for the Bulls. He also has three Test caps. As an interesting aside, his officials names are MacGuyver Dean Greyling. Born Dean Greyling, he legally changed his name as a child to ‘MacGuyver’, as he was a fan of the TV character by that name, refusing to answer to Dean. Though he hasn’t legally changed his name back, he is recognised only as Dean. Morné Mellett deserves a special mention, as he also retired at age 26 – on medical advice after he suffered a vertebral artery dissection earlier in the year. Back-up: Pierre Schoeman, Dayan van der Westhuizen