Bulls Super Rugby head coach Nollis Marais has named Handré Pollard and Jesse Kriel in his starting team to play the Jaguares at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The two Springboks missed last weekend’s unexpected defeat in the Super Rugby tournament against the Sunwolves in Tokyo due to a rest agreement between SA Rugby and the six Super Rugby franchises, but their influence will be vital in the surge needed from the home side to become play-off contenders later in the season.
They replace Tian Schoeman and Warrick Gelant, who reverts to the bench.
Coach Nollis Marais not only welcomes back two of his international players, but also has a fit Lood de Jager available.
De Jager missed the Tokyo match due to injury, but the former SA Rugby Player of the Year is back to full fitness and replaces Jason Jenkins, who moves down to the bench.
Piet van Zyl, who also missed out on Sunwolves selection due to injury, is fit again and the third change to the backline. He comes in for Rudy Paige at scrumhalf.
Up front, Pierre Schoeman will start at loosehead for the fourth time this season, replacing Lizo Gqoboka.
Former Blue Bulls age group player, Marnus Schoeman (on loan from the Steval Pumas), was named on the bench and could make his Super Rugby and Bulls debut if he takes to the field.
The former Waterkloof High School flanker was on loan to the Stormers at the start of the season, but picked up an injury pre-season and missed out on squad selection down in Cape Town.
He now joins a number of old team mates in the set-up.
Marais was not hiding away from their poor performances when announcing the team in Pretoria on Thursday.
“We are not where we wanted to be at this stage of the competition and that is disappointing. Yes, we had a tough schedule in the opening weeks of the competition, but good teams are supposed to overcome those. I still believe we have the make-up, talent and mindset to become a serious contender in the tournament this year, but reality bites. We under performed, but there is massive determination to turn our season around.”
Bulls captain, Adriaan Strauss, is all too aware of the threats the Jaguars will post.
“They are almost a test match team and they play test match style rugby. They minimise mistakes, take the points and put huge emphasis on first phase. That makes them a difficult team to breakdown. We can do that, but will need patience on attack and discipline on defence,” Strauss said.
“The team is absolutely delighted to be back home, not only in their personal capacity, but also back at Loftus,where our other family lives. We need to show we are a championship team and I think us coming back to our fans and support base, could just be the spark.”
Jesse Kriel, Travis Ismaiel , Jan Serfontein , Burger Odendaal , Jamba Ulengo, Handre Pollard , Piet van Zyl , Hanro Liebenberg , Jannes Kirsten ,Nick de Jager ,Lood de Jager , RG Snyman ,Trevor Nyakane,Adriaan Strauss,Pierre Schoeman,
Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka , Martin Dreyer , Jason Jenkins , Marnus Schoeman ,Rudy Paige ,Tian Schoeman , Warrick Gelant,