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Bulls enter a new era, but can they save their season?

Super Rugby
PRETORIA - The winds of change are finally blowing through Loftus Versfeld but the question remains: will they have any effect on their poor Super Rugby campaign?

While the answer to that question will be revealed in Saturday's clash against the Highlanders at Loftus, Bulls coach Nollis Marais has taken the only decision he has at his disposal to arrest the downward spiral.

Gone is former Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss and so too other under-performing players and in comes former Junior Springbok captain Hanro Liebenberg to lead the Bulls into a new era.

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Bulls players react after loosing their round seven match against the Sunwolves in Tokyo. Photo: EPA/Kimimasa Mayama

Strauss has a foot injury and will miss the game against the Highlanders and probably the matches against the Lions and Hurricanes.

The 21-year-old Liebenberg will become the youngest Bulls captain in Super Rugby history, and while his appointment was made with an eye on the future, Liebenberg wants the turnaround at Loftus to begin as early as Saturday.

“For us this week the main focus has been to put up a better performance. We let ourselves down in many aspects. So this week is about going out and giving a better performance and getting back the respect for ourselves and fans,” said Liebenberg.

Marais’ move to hand the leadership reins to Liebenberg may be considered premature by many but in Liebenberg’s own words "the players must individually, and as a team, take responsibility for what has happened", that could be the breath of fresh air needed to turn things around.

“For me personally it is not that much of a burden, especially with the quality guys we have in the team. For me it will be to go out there and get the best out of them. I think we are all grown men who can make decisions for ourselves, so for me it will be about making the big calls at the right times and to put up a better performance as individuals and as a team.”

The pressure of turning things around for the Bulls won’t solely lie on the young shoulders of Liebenberg and Marais has made wholesale changes to the team in a last ditch effort to save his job.

Wing Jade Stighling will make his Super Rugby debut in place of the injured Travis Ismaiel in the only change amongst the backs, while the biggest and much-needed changes come in the loose trio with Liebenberg coming in for Renaldo Bothma, Ruan Steenkamp replacing Nick de Jager and Jannes Kirsten coming in for the injured Jacques Potgieter.

The last of the changes are in the frontrow where Jaco Visagie replaces Strauss and Lizo Gqoboka will start at loosehead prop ahead of Pierre Schoeman who drops to the bench.

On the bench Edgar Marutlulle gets the nod as cover at hooker while prop Coenraad van Vuuren and flyhalf Tony Jantjies are also set to make their first Super Rugby appearances if called to play.

“I’m not happy with the way everybody is playing at the moment, the results say it for themselves. To single out one person will not be fair to Adriaan or anybody else,” Marais said in defending some of his selections.

Bulls team:

Warrick Gelant, Jade Stighling, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Jamba Ulengo, Tian Schoeman, Piet van Zyl, Hanro Liebenberg (captain), Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Trevor Nyakane, Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle, Pierre Schoeman, Coenraad van Vuuren, Lood de Jager, Nick de Jager, Rudy Paige, Tony Jantjies, Jan Serfontein.

The Star

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