Vodacom Bulls coach Nollis Marais named a squad filled with no less than six Vodacom Super Rugby debutants for the impending showdown to open their season against the DHL Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.
No less than four players in the starting line-up will make their presence felt for the first time in the competition with two newcomers on the bench in a young and exciting team that faces a daunting task to open their season with a win away from home.
Fullback Warrick Gelant, flankers Jannes Kirsten and Nic de Jager – the latter who joined the team last year after a stint at Saracens – and lock RG Snyman will all run onto the field to get their first taste of Super Rugby action.
The team will be captained by Adriaan Strauss, and while there are technically nine Springboks in the team, it is still a very young side by Bulls standards.
Francois Brummer wins the nod ahead of Tian Schoeman at flyhalf, with Burger Odendaal – who was sensational in the pre-season in Polokwane – not doing enough to win selection ahead of Springbok Jan Serfontein for the game.
Serfontein will lead the charge in the midfield with Springbok partner Jesse Kriel, while Gelant forms a potentially potent back three with Bok Bjorn Basson and Travis Ismael.
Up front Strauss will go into the game with an all-Bok front row with Trevor Nyakane and Marcel van der Merwe as parners, but only Arno Botha stands out with any experience in the rest of the pack.
Grant Hattingh is the senior man in the middle while on the bench the return of Hencus van Wyk from Japan and newcomer Lizo Gqoboka will playa key role.
Ironically after heading to Newlands last year with three fetchers in the side, this year the Bulls only fit fetcher – Roelof Smit – is on the bench.
Snyman’s SA under-20 lock partner – 120kg lock Jason Jenkins – was also surprisingly named on the bench ahead of Marvin Orie – mainly because the Bulls need a four lock on the bench as they have two natural fives on the field.
Marais said the lessons they learnt in the pre-season win over the Lions played a lot into the way the selection was made.
De Jager had an excellent game, and it seems the second half impact of Schoeman and Odendaal is the reason why they are also on the bench.
“We started well in Polokwane, and while we were behind on the scoreboard, we got good front foot ball and while we didn’t use all our opportunities, when Tian and Burger came on it made a huge difference to the way we played and the pace of the game,” Marais said.
“That is something I’m trying to change around here, the way we play that last 20 minutes of rugby and that is also the reason why someone like Burger is starting from the bench.”
The team (with Super Rugby caps) is: Warrick Gelant (0), Travis Ismaiel (6), Jesse Kriel (17), Jan Serfontein (36), Bjorn Basson (86), Francois Brummer (5), Rudy Paige (21), Arno Botha (33), Jannes Kirsten (0), Nic de Jager (0), Grant Hattingh (48), RG Snyman (0), Marcel van der Merwe (33), Adriaan Strauss (118, c), Trevor Nyakane (58).
Replacements: Jaco Visagie (3), Lizo Gqoboka (0), Hencus van Wyk (1), Jason Jenkins (0), Roelof Smit (3), Piet van Zyl (54), Tian Schoeman (7), Burger Odendaal (10).