Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is a believer in rotation and has shuffled his cards for their crunch SuperRugby match against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, announcing a side with five changes to the starting line-up on Thursday.
Springboks Victor Matfield and Jan Serfontein are both over their injuries and return at lock and inside centre respectively, while Trevor Nyakane was always going to start at loosehead prop even before Dean Greyling had to withdraw from the squad with a knee injury suffered in a car accident in midweek.
But Ludeke has decided to rotate his loose-forwards, with two of his hardest-working players, Deon Stegmann and Pierre Spies being replaced by Lappies Labuschagne and Arno Botha.
Stegmann drops out of the match-day 23 with Grant Hattingh, making room for Matfield, able to cover both lock and flank from the bench. Spies has been unwell this week and will be a replacement against the Lions.
“It’s more about rotation than anything else. It’s very positive to have Jan back and Burger Odendaal is on the bench and can have a big impact later in the game. It’s great to have Victor back and Arno and Lappies have both come through their injuries very well.
“Trevor has had a huge impact already this season, we had quite a crisis at tighthead and he really stood up. He’s on a roll, playing well and there’s no mental fatigue with him. At the moment he’s a crucial part of our team,” Ludeke said at Loftus Versfeld on Thursday.
Ludeke confirmed that starting Serfontein at outside centre, where he plays for the Springboks, was an option and the shift may well happen if the Bulls bring Odendaal on for number 13 JJ Engelbrecht at some stage against the Lions.
“Obviously it is an option to play Jan at 13, but we know his combination with JJ works. At this stage a change is not necessary, JJ has no niggles and is going well,” Ludeke said.
On the bench, there is the potential for a first Super Rugby cap for Tuks prop Andrew Beerwinkel, a rising star in South African rugby.
For Matfield, who takes over the captaincy from Spies, Saturday’s match is all about finishing the job in the closing minutes, something the Bulls failed to do in their last-minute 22-18 loss to the Lions at Ellis Park four weeks ago.
“We’re all confident at the moment, we had a great away win against the Sharks and we were in the games against the Stormers and Lions. But we need to pull those games through, we need to know how to finish and convert our chances,” Matfield said.
Team: Jesse Kriel, Francois Hougaard, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Handré Pollard, Piet van Zyl, Arno Botha, Jacques du Plessis, Lappies Labuschagne, Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane. Bench – Callie Visagie, Morné Mellett, Andrew Beerwinkel, Grant Hattingh, Pierre Spies, Tian Schoeman, Burger Odendaal, Jurgen Visser.