Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has named Adriaan Strauss at hooker to face the Stormers in Super Rugby at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Strauss, who made his Super Rugby debut for the Bulls in 2006 (eight matches), is back in the Pretoria side after a long stint with the Cheetahs (for whom he played 97 times) and was put straight into the starting team by Ludeke.
The coach also included Vodacom Bulls debutants Lappies Labuschagne and Trevor Nyakane, but neither are strangers to the competition. Labuschagne played for Toyota Cheetahs in 27 matches (debut 2012) and Nyakane represented the same franchise 42 times (debut 2012).
The rest of the team consists of tried and tested players, with the most experienced captain in the history of Super Rugby, Victor Matfield, leading the team onto the field for the 83rd time.
Regular captain Pierre Spies, who made his last appearance in Super Rugby in Round One last year against the Sharks in Durban, will play off the bench as he is eased back into action following his long lay-off.
Another player returning from a long lay-off is Arno Botha, who will start at number eight for the first time in 22 matches for his franchise. The loose forward last played for the Vodacom Bulls in 2013 and missed last season due to injury.
Ludeke, who will be in charge of the team for an eight consecutive season, expressed his excitement with kick-off a couple of days away.
“We have prepared well for this season, but one will only really know how you shape up once the tournament is underway. I believe we have a solid squad with good depth this year and players suited to the way we want to execute our style of play,” Ludeke said.
“That said, we are up against a formidable team with good confidence, as the bulk of them won the Currie Cup at the end of last season. We will have to start well and stay strong if we want to kick the competition of on a winning note. Luckily we start at home and hope to have our supporters out in big numbers at Loftus Versfeld.”
According to Matfield it will not necessarily be the match-ups between individuals that will make the difference, but rather a team effort.
“Each side has different strengths and game breakers, so the one that plays the best as a unit and use their scoring opportunities should come out on top. It is going to be a great game and we are really looking forward to it. We have prepared long and hard and now just want to go out and play,” Matfield said.
Ludeke included 20-year old prop Dayan van der Westhuizen onto the bench. The Junior Springbok player is recovering from a bruised foot and should he not be able to take the field, another SA Under-20 prop, Neethling Fouchè, will take his place on the bench.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet Van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Jacques Du Plessis, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Morné Mellet, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen/Neethling Fouche, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Pierre Spies, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Date: Saturday, February 14
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kickoff: 19:10 local (17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Johan Greeff