The Bulls will start their 2019 Vodacom Super Rugby campaign with five tournament rookies when they face the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday in a highly anticipated clash that will also see the return to South African rugby for Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits.
Vermeulen returns to the competition for the first time since 2015 having represented the Toyota Cheetahs and DHL Stormers in 109 matches, while Brits, who played for the Cats and DHL Stormers in his career, last saw action in the Southern Hemisphere showpiece in 2011.
Rosko Specman will be the only tournament debutant in the run-on team though as Vodacom Bulls Head Coach, Pote Human, named the former Springbok Sevens player on the wing. Specman has played in the GUINNESS PRO 14 competition for the Toyota Cheetahs in 2017, but this will be a first taste of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament for the two time World Sevens Series winner.
Human also named Corniel Els, Simphiwe Matanzima, Eli Snyman and Dylan Sage on the bench, with all due for a first appearance for the home side in the competition. Matanzima sat on the bench in last season’s match against the Sunwolves in Singapore, but did not take to the field.
Apart from Vermeulen and Brits, there will also be a Vodacom Bulls debut for replacement prop Dayan van der Westhuizen. The Vodacom Bulls player represented the Southern Kings in the tournament before as a loan player to the Eastern Cape franchise, playing for them 11 times.
Ruan Steenkamp, who missed the entire 2018 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament due to injury, was named on the flank.
Human could call on a very experienced core of players, with Burger Odendaal and Handré Pollard in line for their 50th caps later this season, while up front, Trevor Nyakane could play in his 100th Super match during the tournament (running out for his 50th Vodacom Bulls cap on Saturday).
Lood de Jager will lead the team for the first time in the tournament and the lock will combine with Jason Jenkins. The duo last started a match together as the lock combination in March 2018 against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The locks are amongst the 10 Springboks named by Human for the season’s opener.
Human said they are not the favourites despite playing at home.
"Recent history shows how formidable the Stormers have been. They have won seven of their last nine games against us, so will have more than enough confidence coming here. That said, we did beat them here last year, so if we apply what we trained, I firmly believe we can do that again."
An 80 minute effort will be needed though, De Jager insisted.
"We held the lead in three of our last matches at halftime and only won once, so it is imperative that we not only start well, but sustain our efforts for the full 80 minutes. There is massive excitement and expectation amongst the squad this year and we are keen to go out and play the best rugby we can,” the captain said.
The team to face the Stormers is:
Warrick Gelant (34, 60), Johnny Kotze (34, 40), Jessie Kriel (61, 75), Burger Odendaal (43, 15), Rosko Specman (on debut), Handré Pollard (46, 437), Embrose Papier (10, 5), Duane Vermeulen (109, 40), Hanro Liebenberg (28, 15), Ruan Steenkamp (11, 0), Lood de Jager (c; 60, 25), Jason Jenkins (40, 35), Trevor Nyakane (91, 15), Schalk Brits (63, 20), Lizo Gqoboka (37, 10). Replacements: Corniel Els (on debut), Simphiwe Matanzima (0, 0), Dayan van der Westhuizen (10, 0), Eli Snyman (on debut), Thembelani Bholi (30, 5), Ivan van Zyl (17, 0), Manie Libbok (8, 13), Dylan Sage (on debut).