Vodacom Bulls coach Nollis Marais named Hanro Liebenberg to lead the side to face New Zealand outfit, the Highlanders, in Pretoria on Saturday. Liebenberg will hence become the 19th player to lead the Vodacom Bulls since the inception of the Vodacom Super Rugby competition. The former Junior Springboks captain missed out on last weekend’s defeat against the Crusaders due to a hamstring strain and comes back into the team in place of Renaldo Bothma. Liebenberg takes over the captain’s armband from Adriaan Strauss, who has a foot injury. Strauss will undergo scans to determine the extent of his injury.
Travis Ismaiel and Jacques Potgieter has also been ruled out from last week’s team. They will be replaced by Jade Stighling and Jannes Kirsten respectively. Kirsten played off the bench last weekend, but it will be a debut for Stighling, who turns 24 later this month.
The winger, who was schooled at Hans Moore High in Benoni, has represented the Vodacom Blue Bulls at age group level and Currie Cup since 2013, but now gets a first start for the Vodacom Bulls.
Marais made a number of personnel changes to the pack. Jaco Visagie (for Strauss), Lizo Gqoboko (for Pierre Schoeman), RG Snyman (for Lood de Jager) and a fit-again Ruan Steenkamp (for Nick de Jager) will all start this week.
Edgar Marutlulle is also back in the match 23 to fill the vacancy left by Visagie, while Coenraad van Vuuren was named as back-up tighthead. He takes over from Jacobie Adriaanse. Van Vuuren joined the Vodacom Bulls on tour in New Zealand, but did not play, so could make his debut for the team if he takes to the field.
There is also a potential debut for flyhalf Tony Jantjies, who was named on the bench in place of injured Francois Brummer. The 25-year old Jantjies will make his Vodacom Bulls and Vodacom Super Rugby debut, should he take to the field.
Marais said the changes was needed to freshen up his team’s effort. “Look, to lose two former Springboks in your pack is never nice and Travis was playing some great rugby as well. But we have had no luck with injuries, so I have accepted that part of the deal. What Icannot accept though are the results we are producing. It does not do justice to the hard work being put in by all. We need to be better at a number of things and I believe we did the necessary adjustments to beat the Highlanders.”
Liebenberg was keen for his team to front up against the New Zealand side. “It is a massive honour to lead this team and what it stands for, but Saturday’s effort will not be about me at all. It will be about the team taking responsibility of our performance out there. The challenge is massive, as the Highlanders are one formidable opponent, but we have to start showing progress and reward for the hard work.”
The team (with Super Rugby caps and points) is: Warrick Gelant (13, 5), Jade Stighling (0, 0), Jesse Kriel (39, 20), Burger Odendaal (27, 15), Jamba Ulengo (19, 35), Tian Schoeman (30, 105), Piet van Zyl (76,65), Hanro Liebenberg (c, 15, 15), Jannes Kirsten (22, 10), Ruan Steenkamp (5, 0), RG Snyman (21, 10), Jason Jenkins (22, 15), Trevor Nyakane (78, 15), Jaco Visagie (14, 0), Lizo Gqoboka (20, 5).
Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle (29, 20), Pierre Schoeman (18, 5), Coenraad van Vuuren (0, 0), Lood de Jager (47, 10), Nick de Jager (13, 5), Rudy Paige (42, 5), Tony Jantjies (0, 0), Jan Serfontein (54, 80).