The Vodacom Bulls will start their 2019 Vodacom Super Rugby campaign with five tournament rookies when they face the DHL Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday in a highly anticipated clash that will also see the return to South African rugby for Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits.
Vermeulen returns to the competition for the first time since 2015 having represented the Toyota Cheetahs and DHL Stormers in 109 matches, while Brits, who played for the Cats and DHL Stormers in his career, last saw action in the Southern Hemisphere showpiece in 2011.
Rosko Specman will be the only tournament debutant in the run-on team though as Vodacom Bulls Head Coach, Pote Human, named the former Springbok Sevens player on the wing. Specman has played in the GUINNESS PRO 14 competition for the Toyota Cheetahs in 2017, but this will be a first taste of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament for the two time World Sevens Series winner.
Human also named Corniel Els, Simphiwe Matanzima, Eli Snyman and Dylan Sage on the bench, with all due for a first appearance for the home side in the competition. Matanzima sat on the bench in last season’s match against the Sunwolves in Singapore, but did not take to the field.
Apart from Vermeulen and Brits, there will also be a Vodacom Bulls debut for replacement prop Dayan van der Westhuizen. The Vodacom Bulls player represented the Southern Kings in the tournament before as a loan player to the Eastern Cape franchise, playing for them 11 times.
Ruan Steenkamp, who missed the entire 2018 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament due to injury, was named on the flank.
Human could call on a very experienced core of players, with Burger Odendaal and Handré Pollard in line for their 50th caps later this season, while up front, Trevor Nyakane could play in his 100th Super match during the tournament (running out for his 50th Vodacom Bulls cap on Saturday).
Lood de Jager will lead the team for the first time in the tournament and the lock will combine with Jason Jenkins. The duo last started a match together as the lock combination in March 2018 against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The locks are amongst the 10 Springboks named by Human for the season’s opener.
Human said they are not the favourites despite playing at home.
“Recent history shows how formidable the Stormers have been. They have won seven of their last nine games against us, so will have more than enough confidence coming here. That said, we did beat them here last year, so if we apply what we trained, I firmly believe we can do that again.”
An 80 minute effort will be needed though, De Jager insisted.
“We held the lead in three of our last matches at halftime and only won once, so it is imperative that we not only start well, but sustain our efforts for the full 80 minutes. There is massive excitement and expectation amongst the squad this year and we are keen to go out and play the best rugby we can,” the captain said.
The team to face the DHL Stormers (with caps and points) is: Warrick Gelant (34, 60), Johnny Kotze (34, 40), Jessie Kriel (61, 75), Burger Odendaal (43, 15), Rosko Specman (on debut), Handré Pollard (46, 437), Embrose Papier (10, 5), Duane Vermeulen (109, 40), Hanro Liebenberg (28, 15), Ruan Steenkamp (11, 0), Lood de Jager (c; 60, 25), Jason Jenkins (40, 35), Trevor Nyakane (91, 15), Schalk Brits (63, 20), Lizo Gqoboka (37, 10). Replacements: Corniel Els (on debut), Simphiwe Matanzima (0, 0), Dayan van der Westhuizen (10, 0), Eli Snyman (on debut), Thembelani Bholi (30, 5), Ivan van Zyl (17, 0), Manie Libbok (8, 13), Dylan Sage (on debut).
Notes: Selected Vodacom Bulls stats
Head to Head (Opta)
Played 31, won 12 with one draw. Average score: 22-22.
Matches at home: Played 15, won 8, lost 7. Average score: 27-22.
Most appearances: Victor Matfield 140
Most points: Morné Steyn 1449
Most tries: Bryan Habana 37
Most points in season: Morné Steyn 263
Most tries in season: Bjorn Basson 10
SUPERSPORT CHALLENGE WARMUP MATCH
The Vodacom Blue Bulls also named their squad to play in a warm-up friendly against Naka Bulle in the curtain-raiser to the game. The Vodacom Blue Bulls are preparing for the SuperSport Rugby Challenge and the Naka Bulle will play in the Gold Cup, so this match will be perfect as part of their preparations.
A number of players with Vodacom Super Rugby experience have been named in the Vodacom Blue Bulls team, including Conraad van Vuuren, Jannes Kirsten, Andre Warner and Divan Rossouw. Flyhalf Chris Smith, on loan from the Pumas, will also make a first appearance for the team.
Team to play Naka Bulle on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld is: Divan Rossouw, Cornal Hendricks, Franco Naude, JT Jackson, Jade Stighling, Chris Smith, Andre Warner, Muller Uys, Tim Agaba, Paul Schoeman, Aston Fortuin, Jannes Kirsten, Conraad van Vuuren, Dewald Maritz, Matthys Basson. Replacements: Stephan Leonard, Nqoba Mxoli, Madot Mabokela, Aaron Brodi, Fred Eksteen, Marco Jansen van Vuuren, Theo Boshoff, Cameron Hufke, Earll Douwrie.