Bulls coach Pote Human decided to make use of influential player and leader Duane Vermeulen for only the first two matches of the Bulls four-match tour before he returns home for what is, somewhat facetiously, called “protocol rest” as per the agreement with the Springboks.
Vermeulen is therefore in the side to play the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday, as is captain Handré Pollard, who still must sit out one more match on the tour.
♦ Human decided to play both against the Rebels this weekend. It is a crucial match for both the Melbourne outfit and the Bulls tourists.
The Rebels, like the Bulls second in their (Australian) conference with six wins and five defeats, trail front-runners Brumbies (29) by a single point.
This is exactly where the Bulls are: second, on 28 points, one point behind the Sharks. The Rebels and the Bulls have both have a math in hand with the Brumbies and the Sharks 29 points coming from 12 matches each.
♦ Human has brought back Springbok fullback Warrick Gelant who has been battling with bronchitis for the past two weeks. He has however recovered and takes over from utility back Divan Rossouw, who moves to the bench.
The Bulls coach also selected two new flanks from the side that lost so badly against the Crusaders (13-45). Toer Schoeman takes over the openside role from Springbok Marco van Staden who gets his rest, and Hanro Liebenberg starts in place of Jannes Kirsten.
Van Staden, who has been in outstanding form, is probably rested because of the responsibility he will have when Vermeulen is rested.
Rossouw and Kirsten drop to the bench as utility back and forward respectively, with Dylan Sage and Thembelani Bholi missing out on the opening tour match.
Human said they need to start the tour well. "Our performance against the Rebels will be a crucial indicator of our prospects for the rest of the season.
“We need to start the tour well, but more importantly, we need to get some self-respect back after our poor showing in front of the Loftus faithful last weekend. We owe it to them, but also ourselves to show some intent and some desire to win this competition."
Bulls captain, Handré Pollard, said the Rebels have shown how good they are on preying on weaknesses in their opponents’ make-up.
"And to be fair, we showed that we have a couple of areas to improve upon. That said, the one thing about this squad you cannot fault is to take it on the chin and then just work harder. We all want to be there at the end of the race, we want to play in the knock-out phase and then the final. I believe we have the players to do exactly that.
Bulls (Super Rugby matches and points in brackets)
Warrick Gelant (41, 70), Cornal Hendricks (35, 55), Johnny Kotze (41, 45), Burger Odendaal (51, 25), Rosko Specman (8, 20), Handré Pollard (56, 581), André Warner (15, 15), Duane Vermeulen (119, 50), Hanro Liebenberg (38, 20), Paul Schoeman (29, 35), Jason Jenkins (47, 35), RG Snyman (43, 10), Trevor Nyakane (102, 15), Schalk Brits (70, 20), Lizo Gqoboka (48, 15). Replacements: Jaco Visagie (41, 5), Simphiwe Matanzima (11, 5), Wiehan Herbst (44, 0), Jannes Kirsten (27, 0), Marco van Staden (20, 15), Embrose Papier (20, 5), Manie Libbok (13, 33), Divan Rossouw (21, 15).
Rebels pick Quade Cooper
The Rebels have included their playmaker-flyhalf Quade Cooper, who has recovered from last week’s concussion.
There are two changes to the starting line-up, both in the pack. Loose forwards Richard Hardwick (openside flank) and Rob Leota (No 8) have been promoted from the bench.
Matt To’omua, Leicester centre, had to rush his homecoming to Australian Super Rugby because of Cooper’s concussion. He would have taken over as flyhalf but is now on the bench for a possible run – his since he played 88 games for the Brumbies between 2008 and 2016.
15 Dane Haylett-Petty (captain), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Rob Leota, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner. Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Pone Fa’amausili, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 Matt To’omua.