Arno Botha is back at eighthman for the Bulls for the SuperRugby clash with the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday, which could well be a conference decider.
Botha, who replaces Hanro Liebenberg, is one of four changes to the starting line-up announced on Wednesday by coach Nollis Marais, with the 24-year-old Springbok having shown some threatening form a few weeks ago.
“Hanro is definitely a talent for the future, but Arno is more experienced and a natural number eight. We’re going to need some really good ball-carriers and tough players against the Stormers. We’re going to need experience against the Stormers as well and we have to get momentum. We have plans for if they want to make it a physical battle up front,” Marais explained at Loftus Versfeld on Wednesday.
The other changes to the line-up see Francois Brummer and Piet van Zyl taking over the starting halfback jerseys from Tian Schoeman and Rudy Paige, while Travis Ismaiel is on the left wing instead of Bjorn Basson.
“Bjorn has a bit of a calf strain so we’re giving him a rest. Travis has been playing excellent rugby and Jamba Ulengo is getting better every week as well.
“Francois’ game-management is just a bit better, but we will still use Tian at certain times. Francois has kicked for poles very well and he’s been there before in high-pressure SuperRugby games, he’s settled in well this year. Piet played well on tour and he can make the game quicker for us, while Rudy has a bit of a hamstring strain and is working on areas of his game. But in the last 20-30 minutes we might need to control the game and Rudy can slow it down for us,” Marais said.
The need for experience also sees Grant Hattingh and Deon Stegmann return on the bench, taking the places of Marvin Orie and Roelof Smit.
Ben O’Keeffe is the referee on Saturday and, after he blew the Bulls out of the breakdown against the Brumbies two weeks ago, Marais is hoping the veteran Stegmann will be able to make decisions that are in accordance with the referee’s.
Bulls team: SP Marais, Jamba Ulengo, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Travis Ismaiel, Francois Brummer, Piet van Zyl, Arno Botha, Jannes Kirsten, Lappies Labuschagne, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka. Bench – Jaco Visagie, Trevor Nyakane, Pierre Schoeman, Grant Hattingh, Deon Stegmann, Rudy Paige, Tian Schoeman, Dries Swanepoel.