PRETORIA - The season may be long gone and with it the job of head coach Nollis Marais, but the Bulls players will have a point to prove before the curtain comes down on their disastrous Super Rugby campaign.
Marais’ fate has been sealed. He is now living on borrowed time. His players will have to play for their careers at Loftus when they clash against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
Under the watchful eye of new boss John Mitchell, many of the Bulls’ under-performing players will have to impress and there could be no better side than the defending champions to do it against.
Talented beyond most South African teams in the competition, the Bulls have no business occupying the lower tiers of the Super Rugby standings, but after losing eight of their 11 matches, the onus of returning to the top will again be on the players’ minds.
Returning captain Adriaan Strauss is one of the players who has struggled with his form this season along with a number of his teammates. But the former Springbok captain doesn’t think anyone has a point to prove.
Instead, Strauss has urged his teammates to play their best rugby for each other, the team and their suffering supporters. He acknowledged, though, that Saturday's encounter will be a tough ask as they face a Hurricanes outfit who have lost twice this season and are relishing the rare occasion of coming to Loftus as outright favourites.
“Ja, you want to play your best rugby in each and every game. It’s a massive game and that is enough to get you motivated like any other weekend in the Super Rugby tournament,” said Strauss at Thursday's team announcement.
While the skipper continues to hold on to lofty ambitions of his team getting out of the rut, the embattled Marais has been left counting the ills of his team’s performances and a growing injury list.
Marais believes his team could have produced better results had it not been for their lack of accuracy, “silly mistakes” and injuries and conceded that the confidence in the side is at an all-time low.
The Bulls will have a new front-row with Strauss coming in at hooker and Jacobie Adriaanse getting a rare start at tighthead prop in place of the injured Trevor Nyakane.
In the backline, Marais has been forced to move Jesse Kriel to wing for the injured Sibahle Manxwane, while Duncan Matthews will make his Super Rugby debut when he starts on the wing also for the injured Jade Stighling, with Warrick Gelant starting at fullback.
Bulls team: Warrick Gelant, Duncan Matthews, Jan Serfontein, Burger Odendaal, Jesse Kriel, Tian Schoeman, Rudy Paige, Hanro Liebenberg, Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp, Lood de Jager, Jason Jenkins, Jacobie Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Lizo Gqoboko.
Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman, Conraad van Vuuren, Abongile Nonkontwana, Nic de Jager, Ivan van Zyl, Tony Jantjies, Ulrich Beyers.
Hurricanes team: Jodie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara (captain), Brad Shields, Ardie Savea, Vaea Fifita, Sam Lousi, Mark Abbott, Jeff To’omaga-Allen, Ricky Riccitelli, Loni Uhila. Replacements: Leni Apisai, Chris Eves, Ben May, Reed Prinsep, Callum Gibbins, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Otere Black, Ben Lam.