Cape Town - Cyle Brink is a big unit. At 1.91m and 113kg, he is just the right size for a powerful blindside flank whose role it is to punch holes in the opposition’s defence.
His arrival at the Bulls on 1 January 2022 is just the boost Jake White’s squad need if they are to become truly competitive in the United Rugby Championship (URC).
Brink, who turns 28 in January, has had a difficult time at Leicester Tigers in England due to injury, playing only 19 matches since his debut in November 2020.
He was able to secure an early release from his contract to move to Loftus Versfeld and will leave Leicester on 31 December.
The abrasive loose forward will look to regain the kind of form that saw him called up to the Springbok squad in 2018, when he was poised to make his Test debut during the Rugby Championship.
But an ill-timed knee injury sustained during a Bok practice ruled him out, and he subsequently missed the chance to compete for a spot at the 2019 World Cup.
The injury bogey struck again in early 2020 when he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon while playing for the Lions against the
Bulls in a Super Rugby warm-up match.
While at Leicester, Brink had to deal with a hamstring injury as well, and had to watch his club teammate, No 8 Jasper Wiese, become a Bok in 2021 with a number of eyecatching performances in the English Premiership.
It hasn’t quite worked out for him in England, and now he hopes for a fresh start back home.
“I am extremely grateful for having had the time at Leicester Tigers and would like to thank the coaches, staff and my teammates for their support,” Brink said on the Leicester website.
“While I have enjoyed my time in Leicester, I am grateful to the Tigers for coming to this agreement with me and the Bulls, which allows me to return home to South Africa.
“I am looking forward to this new opportunity and challenge in my career, and wish Leicester Tigers all the best in the future.”
Brink was an integral part of the Lions’ success in Super Rugby, where they reached the final in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
His main attribute is being a strong ball-carrier, but he is also an effective line-out jumper and is capable of putting in the big hits in defence.
The Bulls have lacked that dynamic loose forward who can get them over the advantage line in the URC. Duane Vermeulen featured in that role in the triumphant Currie Cup campaigns, but was away with the Boks during the United Rugby Championship.
The change in position for Elrigh Louw also affected the balance of the loose trio. Louw was the man who burst through tackles as a blindside flank previously, supported by Vermeulen at No 8.
But the youngster shifted to the back of the scrum after Vermeulen joined the Boks again, and while he has made his presence felt on a few occasions, it just seems as if the extra responsibilities at No 8 has affected his freedom to be the destructive ball-carrier that he was at No 7.
Sure, the URC’s lift in intensity doesn’t allow hard-running loose forwards like Louw that extra space to roam in, and that is where someone like Brink could become a vital part of the Bulls back row.
At the moment, apart from Louw, the other loose forwards in the Bulls squad are captain Marcell Coetzee, Arno Botha, Jacques du Plessis, Muller Uys and WJ Steenkamp, so they did need Brink and perhaps a few more loose forwards to be signed over the next few months to ensure enough depth for the URC and Currie Cup.
With Coetzee mainly an openside flank, Du Plessis is the only other real blindsider in the squad, with Botha, Uys and Steenkamp more specialist No 8s than flanks.
The giant-sized Du Plessis hasn’t quite settled in yet at Loftus since his move from French club Montpellier, and looks to be better suited as a lock anyway on the fast South African pitches.
Botha has done a solid job as a No 7 when required, while youngster Steenkamp has the potential to become a real force at No 8 in the next few years.
Therefore, Brink’s decision to move back to SA couldn’t come sooner for the Bulls, and for his own Bok ambitions as well.
The Bulls battled to keep up with the physical intensity and tempo of Irish sides Leinster and Connacht on their United Rugby Championship tour, and Brink can provide that hard edge that may have been lacking in the loose trio.
Of course, they also need to shore up their scrum after a long night in the set-piece against the Sharks in a 30-16 defeat in Durban on 3 December, and White and
Bulls president Willem Strauss have promised that a few tighthead props will be signed soon.
But they have Brink now as a fresh loose-forward option, and at least he will have some time to integrate with the Loftus set-up, with the Bulls’ next United Rugby Championship match only on 22 January against the Stormers in Pretoria.
There will be two Currie Cup games before that for Brink to get some game time – against the Pumas on 14/15 January, and Western Province on 19 January, both away from home.