Vodacom Bulls coach Nollis Marais made wholesale changes to his team to face the Sunwolves at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday, naming different combinations in his back three, midfield, half-backs, loose trio, lock pairing and front row.
The Vodacom Bulls will play their first match at home in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby tournament and will host the visitors from the Far East with a much changed side from the one that lost to the Toyota Cheetahs two weeks ago.
Amongst the backs, the return of Springbok World Cup midfielder, Jan Serfontein, is the most significant. He will play his 49th Super Rugby match, but only his first in the season, after a delayed start due to injury. He replaces Dries Swanepoel in the midfield..
Warrick Gelant will also earn a first start for the year in place of Jesse Kriel, who will start off the bench, while Piet van Zyl will start at scrumhalf for the first time this season. Ivan van Zyl will deputise for his namesake in his debut for the season, with Rudy Paige being rested.
Up front, Lood de Jager, has now recovered from the concussion he sustained in the opening weekend of the season, and will start at lock with Jason Jenkins. RG Snyman reverts to the bench. Renaldo Bothma is also promoted to a starting berth in place of Jacques Potgieter, who is rested due to concussion, while Pierre Schoeman and Lizo Gqoboko again trade jerseys, with the latter playing off the bench.
Edgar Marutlulle will make a first start at hooker in Super Rugby for the Vodacom Bulls after playing off the bench in the first two weeks. He replaces Jaco Visagie, who drops out of the match day squad.
Two regulars from last season will make a first appearance off the bench. Adriaan Strauss and Jannes Kirsten recovered from injury and take over from Marutllule and Ruan Steenkamp respectively.
Steenkamp will start at six in place of Nick de Jager, who drops out of the match day squad.
According to Marais, the return of so many fit players allowed him to make wholesale changes.
“The likes of Jan will be keen to get going, while those who is starting for the first time this season will enjoy the extended time on the field. I believe this will freshen up our effort, which did not deliver the right results for us in the opening two matches. The Sunwolves were unlucky against the Cheetahs and gave the guys in Bloem a bigger fright than we did. We cannot underestimate them and there can be no excuses, but for us to deliver a good performance.”
Vodacom Bulls captain, Handré Pollard, welcomed the fact that they will be playing at Loftus Versfeld for the first time. “This is our home and we cannot slip up here, especially if we want to bring the crowds back to Loftus. We had a slow start, but I am confident that we will pick up the pace from here and will be running with the leading pack soon,” said Pollard. “There was good energy in training the last couple of days and I am keen to see how the guys perform Friday night.”
The Vodacom Bulls team is (with caps and points): Warrick Gelant (6, 5); Travis Ismaiel (19, 30); Jan Serfontein (48, 65), Burger Odendaal (20, 10); Jamba Ulengo (12, 30); Handré Pollard (c, 27, 254), Piet van Zyl (70, 65); Hanro Liebenberg (10, 15), Renaldo Bothma (19, 20), Ruan Steenkamp (2, 0); Lood de Jager (41, 5); Jason Jenkins (15, 10); Trevor Nyakane (72, 15), Edgar Marutlulle (27, 20), Pierre Schoeman (11, 0). Replacements: Adriaan Strauss (132), Lizo Gqoboko (11, 0), Jacobie Adriaanse (28, 0), RG Snyman (14, 10), Jannes Kirsten (15 (10), Ivan van Zyl (2), Tian Schoeman (24, 75), Jesse Kriel (33, 10).
Adriaan Strauss will extend his South African record (132) for most appearances for a hooker in Vodacom Super Rugby when he takes to the field.