Regular Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies is back at the helm and at eighthman for the Bulls team to face the Blues in Auckland on Friday. Spies played as a replacement in the team’s last Super Rugby clash, against the Emirates Lions at Loftus Versfeld, and will replace Arno Botha at the back of the scrum. Botha will move to the side of the scrum, with Jacques Du Plessis moving to the bench.
In the only change in the backline, Rudy Paige comes back at scrumhalf in place of injured Piet Van Zyl. There are four changes on the bench. Dean Greyling comes in Morné Mellett and a fit-again Werner Kruger will replace Andrew Beerwinkel.
It will be Kruger’s first appearance since the opening round of the tournament when he injured his ankle against the DHL Stormers in February. Among the backs, Jacques-Louis Potgieter is fit again following a hamstring strain and replace Tian Schoeman and Travis Ismaiel comes in for Jurgen Visser. Bulls coach Frans Ludeke expressed his satisfaction with the players available and the team selected for the opening tour match: ‘At this stage of the competition you need to be playing your best rugby and have great momentum. We are pretty close to that and we cannot afford to slip up if we want to stay in the play-off race. That said, we are playing a very dangerous team so will have to execute very well.’
Spies also warns of the dangers the Blues bring to the match: ‘They have strike runners and counter-attacking players all over the team and we will have to make sure we control possession and territory if we want to start the tour on a winning note. We have won here before though, so everyone is keen to keep on the winning track.’
The team (with Super caps) is: Jesse Kriel (12), Francois Hougaard (83), JJ Engelbrecht (60), Jan Serfontein (34), Bjorn Basson (82), Handré Pollard (22), Rudy Paige (16), Pierre Spies (114, c), Arno Botha (28), Lappies Labuschagne (35), Victor Matfield (145), Flip Van Der Merwe (76), Marcel Van Der Merwe (28), Adriaan Strauss (115), Trevor Nyakane (53).
Replacements: Callie Visagie (46), Dean Greyling (63), Werner Kruger (109), Jacques Du Plessis (26), Deon Stegmann (89), Burger Odendaal (6), Jacques-Louis Potgieter (58), Travis Ismaiel (1).