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PRETORIA – The Bulls have announced an experienced, full-strength team to face the Stormers in their opening Super Rugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
With the exception of injured Springboks Dean Greyling, Akona Ndungane and Jacques Potgieter, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke could not have asked for a healthier position to start the season.
“We are blessed and the injuries aren’t long term either, but we believe it is the best 22 for the weekend,” Ludeke said after announcing his team in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Lionel Mapoe, on loan from the Lions, and Morne Mellett were the only two debutants named in the starting XV for Friday's match.
While the Bulls were left exposed with the exodus of experienced campaigners such as Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha in 2012, the current outfit looks to be a more settled side from the regular one that took to the field last season.
The run-on side boasts two players with over 100 Super Rugby games behind their names Ä South Africa’s leading points scorer in Super Rugby, Morne Steyn, who is on 106 matches, and 29-year-old Wynand Olivier, who is the leading Bulls try scorer in the competition, with 103 caps, and the most capped Super Rugby centre in South Africa.
“One has to remember that we lost over 500 caps (in 2012), and while we had a lot, it was a lot of experience to make up,” said Bulls captain Pierre Spies.
“If you lose that amount of caps, it is almost a completely new start with new players in new positions.
“You sit in a situation, where the side was settled, and in a new year everything was new.”
Spies is among five players in the run-on side with more than 50 Super Rugby matches behind them and he felt the Bulls were better off now than they were a year before.
“We were a young team, because we were a new team,” he said.
“But this year we are a season older and I believe we have enough experience on many levels.
“We have a lot of young players coming through and now it is just a matter of bringing it together on the field.”
Spies said they were looking forward to the start of the season, as they prepared to face the Stormers, who won both encounters between the two sides in 2012.
“They are a formidable side, but this competition is all about measuring yourself against the best out there, as a team and on a personal level,” the Bulls skipper said.
“It will be a massive game, as it is not only the traditional north/south derby, it is also two teams with good records in Super Rugby wanting to stake the first claim.”
Bulls team: Zane Kirchner, Lionel Mapoe, JJ Engelbrecht, Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies (captain), Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Juandre Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morne Mellett. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Frik Kirsten, Grant Hattingh, Arno Botha, Jano Vermaak, Louis Fouche, Francois Venter. – Sapa