Hooker Bongi Mbonambi is the only new face up front, relegating Callie Visagie to the bench, but this is an enormous contrast to the backline, where Ludeke has introduced four new players and made a positional switch.
An injury to the exciting young Jesse Kriel sees Ulrich Beyers back in the number 15 jersey, while Springbok JJ Engelbrecht returns from an injury-enforced absence at outside centre, pushing William Small-Smith out of the match-day 22 entirely.
Springbok Sevens player Jamba Ulengo is an exciting new addition to the Bulls team, making his debut on the left wing, with Sampie Mastriet shifting to number 14, replacing Akona Ndungane, who has a bruised knee.
Ludeke has also decided to back experience at flyhalf, with Jacques-Louis Potgieter returning to the number 10 jersey, but has made a change at scrumhalf, with Rudy Paige preferred to Piet van Zyl.
“Quality set-piece ball and controlling possession is going to be the key for both teams and we’re going to be striving for momentum and energy,” Ludeke said on Thursday at Loftus Versfeld.
“I’m confident Bongi will bring exactly the same at the scrum as Callie Visagie, but the Lions are a team that likes to move the ball around so we’ve elected to go for Bongi to start. Callie can come on and cement the scrum because it’s going to be a battle there for 80 minutes. He was really solid last week against Western Province, but we have two quality hookers.”
Springbok Bjorn Basson’s comeback from an ankle injury will now probably happen a week later than expected because the 27-year-old lost his grandfather on Thursday morning.
“Bjorn’s grandfather passed away unfortunately and he’s also had eight weeks off with injury and only one full day’s preparation, so we thought it would be better to give him more time off.
“The timing is exactly right for Jamba Ulengo, he’s worked hard for this opportunity and I want to see what Sevens skills he can bring to the 15s game, especially in space where he can really put the defence under pressure in broken play. He’s big, strong and fast,” Ludeke said.
“This is obviously our most important game of the season, you can call it do or die, and it’s vital for us to win to stay in the race. We don’t want the Lions playing for broken field, this is why game management when we’re with the ball and getting over the gain line is so crucial. And when we kick, we have to get out of our half,” the coach of the team languishing in sixth place on the log said.
“Jacques-Louis started the season at flyhalf and he’s an old head, he stabilises the backline and he brings calm.
“Rudy Paige and Piet van Zyl are both quality scrumhalves but we’ve gone with Rudy to start this game because he’s very quick at the base and has a good kicking game. Piet likes to take control and go for space,” Ludeke added.
Team: 15-Ulrich Beyers, 14-Sampie Mastriet, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Burger Odendaal, 11-Jamba Ulengo, 10-Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9-Rudy Paige, 8-Jono Ross, 7-Jacques du Plessis, 6-Deon Stegmann, 5-Grant Hattingh, 4-Paul Willemse, 3-Werner Kruger, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 1-Dean Greyling. Replacements – 16-Callie Visagie, 17-Basil Short, 18-Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19-Jacques Engelbrecht, 20-Piet van Zyl, 21-Tony Jantjies, 22-Ryan Nell.