The Bulls have derived 11 hours of playing time and much of their grunt from loose forward Hanro Liebenberg this season, so coach Pote Human was delighted on Wednesday to be able to name him in his side to face the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday in the first game of their Super Rugby tour.
Liebenberg, who has started all 10 of his matches this season and has spent 661 minutes on the park, the fourth-most behind Handre Pollard, Duane Vermeulen and Lizo Gqoboka, put in some massive hits against the Waratahs two weeks ago, but it ultimately led to a concussion and him being unavailable for the battering at the hands of the Crusaders last weekend.
But now he returns in a new-look loose trio that also features Paul Schoeman starting at openside flank in place of Marco van Staden.
“Duane, as well as Handre, will miss the two games in New Zealand [against the Blues and Highlanders] in line with the Springboks’ resting policy, so we wanted to give Tier Schoeman a go because he will play those games and Marco is not 100% at the moment, although he could have played,” Human said in a conference call from Melbourne.
The Bulls have not derived much joy from their tours to Australasia in recent times, and have lost nine of their 10 games in Australia since 2013.
But Human will draw some positive memories from their 2007 trip, when he was part of the coaching team and they beat the Brumbies, Waratahs and Highlanders on tour.
“Fortunately in 2007 we came over here and had a couple of wins. It’s about realising that you’re playing on the same field, there’s nothing different except you are far from home, it’s about going out and playing positive rugby and enjoying yourself. Everyone says we don’t tour well, we are far from home but we are in a good place. Everybody knows how important this Rebels game is – it’s a must-win,” Human said.
“The players can be better, I know they can be, and our two games against New Zealand teams so far we just didn’t pitch. I think it’s mental and so we’ve got to fire up the team this weekend. It’s going to be a huge game because the Rebels are also second in their conference, like us. We’ve had a hard look at ourselves, we’ve looked at all the clips from the Crusaders game and have had a hard chat,” Human assured.
Bulls: Warrick Gelant, Cornal Hendricks, Johnny Kotze, Burger Odendaal, Rosko Specman, Handré Pollard (c), Andre Warner, Duane Vermeulen, Hanro Liebenberg, Paul Schoeman, Jason Jenkins, RG Snyman, Trevor Nyakane, Schalk Brits, Lizo Gqoboka. Bench: Jaco Visagie, Simphiwe Matanzima, Wiehahn Herbst, Jannes Kirsten, Marco van Staden, Embrose Papier, Manie Libbok, Divan Rossouw.