Pretoria – The Bulls will start their campaign to end a five-year Currie Cup title drought with a more settled outfit than in recent years when they take on the Golden Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday.
“It is the best continuity we've had in years, as before we had a lot of players leaving just before the Currie Cup started,” coach Frans Ludeke said at the team announcement in Pretoria on Thursday.
“This season there are a lot of positives. We're almost taking the same squad (as in Super Rugby) into the Currie Cup and there are still a few youngsters.”
Ludeke named the 21-year old Burger Odendaal at inside centre where he will make his Currie Cup debut.
“Burger played well against the Pumas. He had a very good Vodacom Cup and Varsity Cup as well, so he's been one of the players who has been waiting for that opportunity,” Ludeke said.
“We're playing against a good side but that is exactly what you want to have Ä a true test.”
Bulls captain Deon Stegmann, Odendaal and flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter were the only players in the match-day 22 who did not feature in last year's competition.
Stegmann, who has for years been the Bulls' sharpest weapon at the breakdown area, should remedy the serious issues the team had there during the Super Rugby season.
Also included in the side were promising youngsters Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg and Jesse Kriel, who could make their debuts playing off the bench.
While the Currie Cup, in recent years, may have been viewed as an incubator for young talent, the Blue Bulls found out during the 2013 season that experience was a crucial ingredient to success.
Ludeke's involvement as coach of the Currie Cup side, for the first time since 2010, was an indication that the union viewed the competition as more than just a stepping stone to Super Rugby.
“It is always a privilege to coach. It is my passion and I can't get enough of the game. It was a board decision and I am looking forward to the competition,” Ludeke said after taking over from Pine Pienaar, who coached the side for the last two years.
The 2013 Currie Cup campaign proved to be a disappointing one for the Light Blues where they missed out on a playoff spot in the competition that only featured six teams.
Although the Currie Cup had been extended to eight teams – with the Pumas and the EP Kings added to the six from last year –
Ludeke believed it would be as difficult to lay claim to the title.
“All the games will be tough and it is good for the players as it breeds a mental toughness where you have to be at your best every weekend,” Ludeke said.
“It could be a bit different because there are more teams this year. When there were only six teams, only two teams fell out.
“But you will have to win away. It won't be good enough to win only your home matches.”
Bulls team: Jurgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Burger Odendaal Sampie Mastriet, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Piet van Zyl, Jacques Engelbrecht, Jono Ross, Deon Stegmann (captain), Grant Hattingh, Paul Willemse, Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Marcel van der Merwe, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Wiaan Liebenberg, Rudy Paige, Tony Jantjies, Jesse Kriel. – Sapa