SuperRugby may have ended negatively for the team from Loftus Versfeld, but much the same group of players will be eager to lay down an early marker for the Currie Cup trophy when the Blue Bulls open that campaign against Western Province at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
Coach Nollis Marais named a team on Tuesday that features just two debutants and only three players on the bench (lock Eli Snyman, scrumhalf Andre Warner and flyhalf Tony Jantjies) who did not feature in the SuperRugby campaign which ended with the Bulls just two points off the playoffs.
With Travis Ismaiel still recovering from a niggling injury, 23-year-old Jade Stighling comes in on the wing, while former Western Province prop Entienne Swanepoel will make his senior debut as the starting tighthead.
Springbok Bjorn Basson starting at fullback is the only other change to the regular backline that played in Super Rugby, the move forced due to the absence of Jesse Kriel on national duty and SP Marais coming to the end of his short-term contract.
“There are only two changes to the Super Rugby backline and just two debutants in the team overall. Bjorn was always an option at fullback, where we also have Manie Libbok. But Bjorn is a bit more experienced and is good in the air, and it’s just about getting the best players on the field. He was good for his Japanese team [Honda Heat] at fullback.
“Jade was very good in the Currie Cup qualifiers and has been waiting for a chance. Travis is not quite ready yet, but I’m happy that we will still have a good attacking back three. It’s a young team overall, but they have more Super Rugby experience, guys like Jason Jenkins, Jannes Kirsten and Pierre Schoeman up front are all a lot better players now,” Marais said on Tuesday at Loftus Versfeld.
Eighthman Arno Botha has been named as the new Currie Cup captain and the Springbok loose forward said he would be impacting more through actions than by words.
“The coach kept the announcement till the end, which is good because it keeps us on our toes. But it’s not a competition to be captain, it’s not about me as an individual, it’s about the team and I want to get the guys together and playing for each other. I won’t speak too much, most of the time I will let my actions do the work. Most of leadership is in what you do,” Botha said.
Team: Bjorn Basson, Jade Stighling, Dries Swanepoel, Burger Odendaal, Jamba Ulengo, Tian Schoeman, Piet van Zyl, Arno Botha (c), Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp, Marvin Orie, Jason Jenkins, Entienne Swanepoel, Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman. Bench – Bandise Maku, Nqoba Mxoli, Eli Snyman, Hanro Liebenberg, Andre Warner, Tony Jantjies, Dan Kriel.