Bulls' Handré Pollard ruled out for a year with injury
Bulls coach Nollis Marais's immediate reaction on hearing that his star flyhalf, Handré Pollard, was out for the year, demonstrated exactly how devastating this news really was.
Marais, preparing for his first Super Rugby campaign, was chatting to journalists about his already growing injury list on the Loftus Versfeld B-field when his phone rang.
It was team doctor Herman Rossouw. Marais listened for a while, then his jaw dropped and he slumped to the ground and rolled several times.
Then he sat up and said: "Pollard is out for the year."
If there was a Springbok coach, he would probably have responded in the same way; although Pat Lambie, who is out for two months with a shoulder injury, should be fit for the first Test against Ireland at Newlands on June 11.
"When I came back from Zimbabwe [where the Bulls played the Cheetahs at the weekend] I told myself I would not have a drink for at least another two weeks, but it seems like I might have to get out the vodka now," Marais said - presumably jokingly about how to numb the shock of the news. Pollard had been central to his game plans for the season.
"With the explosive back-line we have, he was going to be a crucial part of our game," said Marais.
"We were going to play around him. Now he's out."
Making the injury even harder to swallow, perhaps, was that it happened unexpectedly.
Pollard had been making good progress from a shoulder injury he picked up in Japan, while playing for NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in the Top League earlier in the year.
Marais was set to field him this weekend when the Bulls take on the Lions in the last warm-up match ahead of Super Rugby.
Just as cricketer Quinton de Kock injured his knee walking his dogs, Pollard ruptured his knee ligaments while practising his passing at training on Monday.
"Ja," Marais sighed. "It is just not my day. Pollard was running, doing some passing and his knee just gave in. Nobody touched him. There was nobody within even five metres of him.
"We were training and his shoulder was fine, he looked brilliant. He looked like he was a guy starting his Springbok career. We discussed it and I said he would play 30 to 40 minutes this weekend."
With Pollard now out, the fight for the Bulls No10 jersey will be between Tian Schoeman, who was the main pivot for the team in the Currie Cup competition, and new signing Francois Brummer.
"Francois and Tian now become really vital for us," Marais said.
"We started Tian in Zimbabwe [against the Cheetahs], with Brummer coming off the bench. This weekend it will be the other way round. The guys will play an equal amount of time so we can see who controls the game the best.
"At the moment it is 50-50 between the two of them."