Bulls coach Nollis Marais has backed youth in his plans for renewal at Loftus Versfeld, but he also recognises the need for experience and has recalled some wise old heads for Saturday’s Super Rugby match against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth.
Fullback SP Marais, the former Sharks player who was on the Kings books before being one of those left out of contract by the turmoil in Eastern Province rugby, has been given a lifeline by the Bulls with a short-term contract, and he gets the chance to resurrect his career with his first start for the Light Blues.
With Burger Odendaal out for six weeks due to surgery on his quad muscle, Jesse Kriel shifts from fullback to outside centre to renew his successful midfield partnership with fellow Springbok Jan Serfontein.
Coach Marais has also made two changes to the loose trio, with Arno Botha back at eighthman and Currie Cup captain Lappies Labuschagne coming in as openside flank with the task of bringing a calm head to the pack.
Trevor Nyakane returns to the starting loosehead prop position, while Lizo Gqoboka’s injury sees veteran frontranker Werner Kruger named on the bench.
Scrumhalf Rudy Paige has a slight hamstring strain and has been replaced by Piet van Zyl, while there are two other changes to the bench with Marvin Orie named as the replacement lock and Dan Kriel, Jesse’s twin brother, included in a Super Rugby squad for the first time as the utility back reserve.
“I want to back the young guys in this new project and we have to stick to the new way we want to play. Unfortunately last weekend we got back into some old habits and there were a lot of opportunities to go wide which weren’t taken. We have to change the way we think, it’s a brand new way of playing and a different mindset, and the only way to do it is through trial and error.
“But we are battling with a lack of experience, there are a lot of youngsters in the team, 12 guys are in their first year of Super Rugby. We need more stability and combinations, like Jesse and Jan playing together, that’s a good combination. We need some consistency in order to win some matches properly.
“I want an 80-minute performance and you need to start the same side week in, week out for that,” Marais said at Loftus Versfeld on Wednesday.
Captain Adriaan Strauss, who will be part of an all-Springbok front row, knows the Bulls will need to up their game against the Kings in the scrum after the Cheetahs made monkeys of them in the second half of last weekend’s match.
“We’ve been doing quite well at scrum time, but we really let ourselves down last weekend. Technically there’s a lot to improve on and we need to be up for the contest every single week. We need to tweak a few things because it will be tough against the Kings, they have a good scrummaging pack and they had a very good game last weekend against the Sunwolves,” Strauss said.
Bulls team – SP Marais, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Jamba Ulengo, Tian Schoeman, Piet van Zyl, Arno Botha, Jannes Kirsten, Lappies Labuschagne, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss (c), Trevor Nyakane. Bench: Bandise Maku, Pierre Schoeman, Werner Kruger, Marvin Orie, Roelof Smit, Ivan van Zyl, Francois Brummer, Dan Kriel.