Springbok lock and former SA Rugby Player of the Year, Lood de Jager, will make his Vodacom Super Rugby debut for the Vodacom Bulls on Saturday in Cape Town.
The Vodacom Bulls will take on DHL Stormers at DHL Newlands in the opening round of the Super Rugby competition.
De Jager, who gained 40 Super Rugby caps for the Toyota Cheetahs, has been named along five Springboks test players in the starting team, with Jesse Kriel, Jamba Ulengo, Handré Pollard, Rudy Paige, and Jacques Potgieter. RG Snyman and Lizo Gqoboka also played in the Green and Gold last season, as did Piet van Zyl.
De Jager is one of four newcomers to the Vodacom Bulls team in their opening fixture of the competition. Edgar Marutlulle and Jacobie Adriaanse (both Emirates Lions and Southern Kings) have already played at this level and will make their Bulls debuts when called upon from the bench, while back-up flanker, Ruan Steenkamp will make his Vodacom Bulls and Super Rugby debut if he takes to the field.
Pollard will lead the team for the first time as captain and will make his first appearance in Super Rugby since 29 May 2015, when he played against the Brumbies in Canberra.
Injuries kept him out of rugby during the 2016 season.
Vodacom Bulls coach, Nollis Marais, was keen to get the season underway, despite the massive challenge they face in Round One.
“You need to beat the best teams in the competition if you want to win it and to be honest, there will be no easy games. The Stormers will pose a massive challenge, no doubt, but that will be a good benchmark for us at the start of our campaign. We have realistic expectations this year and with a good start, we believe we can still be involved come the final weekends.”
Marais was happy with his squad, despite missing a number of players.
“We are without proven players such as Adriaan (Strauss), Arno (Botha), Jan (Serfontein) and Roelof (Smit), but that is the nature of this competition. Fact is, we have some serious talent in this group and we owe it to ourselves and our supporters to do justice to that,” Marais indicated.
Pollard promised a competitive effort.
“Look, this is one of the classic matches on the calendar and we look forward to this challenge. The Stormers are a class team and playing them at home is probably the toughest start of all in the competition. That said, we have the belief in the squad and the confidence that we can do well this year. We now need to go out there and show our worth.”
The team (with Super rugby caps and points) is:
Jesse Kriel* (31, 10), Jamba Ulengo* (10, 25), Dries Swanepoel (7, 10), Burger Odendaal (18, 10), Travis Ismaiel (17, 30), Handre Pollard* (c, 25, 243), Rudy Paige* (34, 0), Hanro Liebenberg (8, 5), Jacques Potgieter* (56, 35), Nick de Jager (5,5), RG Snyman**(12, 10), Lood de Jager* (40, 5), Trevor Nyakane* (70, 15), Jaco Visagie (8, 0), Pierre Schoeman (9, 0). Replacements: Edgar Marutlelle (25, 20), Jacobie Adriaanse (26, 0), Lizo Gqoboka** (12, 0), Jason Jenkins (13, 5), Ruan Steenkamp (0, 0), Piet van Zyl* (68, 55), Tian Schoeman (22, 73), Warrick Gelant (4, 5).
The Vodacom Bulls won the last encounter between the teams, winning 17-13 at Loftus Versfeld in 2016. In the opening match, at DHL Newlands, the DHL Stormers won 33-9.
Overall, they played 27 times, the DHL Stormers winning 15 and the Vodacom Bulls 11, with one draw. The average score is 19-21 to the Vodacom Bulls though.
Vodacom Bulls match records:
Most points in a match: Morne Steyn 35 (Bulls v Stormers, 2005)
Most conversions: Derick Hougaard 11 (Bulls v Reds, 2007)
Most penalty goals: Derick Hougaard 8 (Bulls v Crusaders, 2007)
Most drop goals: Morne Steyn 4 (Bulls v Crusaders, 2009)