PRETORIA - Like a raging bull in a china shop, new Blue Bulls captain Nic de Jager has made it clear that his team will come out fighting ahead of their Currie Cup encounter against the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday.
De Jager takes over the reins of the team from Boom Prinsloo and the former Saracens loose forward is urging his team to put behind three consecutive losses to the Sharks, WP and the Cheetahs and focus on finishing the first round of the competition well, while making sure they remain in contention for the play-offs.
“You can’t let the results from one or two games this early in the competition determine the rest of your competition. We are going to come out fighting and do everything we can to finish strongly in the competition,” said De Jager after his appointment.
De Jager revealed that the recent and dramatic change in management, which sees John Mitchell take over the reins from Nollis Marais, has brought about confidence within the team.
Marais was given the boot earlier this week after the Bulls' last gasp 41-40 loss to the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld last Saturday and his axing was part of a major coaching shake-up designed to help the side from the capital rekindle their glory days.
“I think he has an unbelievable knowledge and understanding of rugby and he communicates well with the players. He brings in the confidence needed for guys to perform to their full potential,” De Jager explained.
And the Bulls have been given some bite to their bark with Mitchell wasting no time in getting Lizo Gqoboka to start at loosehead prop ahead of Pierre Schoeman, while Prinsloo and Jannes Kirsten return from injury to bolster the side in the loose-forward trio.
Versatile forward Abongile Nonkontwana has made a positional switch from flank to the second row in place of the injured Irne Herbst and will partner Ruben van Heerden.
In-form scrumhalf Andre Warner has been handed a starting berth ahead of Springbok Piet van Zyl with Junior Springbok JT Jackson also getting a start at inside centre in place of the injured Burger Odendaal.
Former Springbok flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff will start off the bench and hooker Edgar Marutlulle returns to the side after being sidelined by an ankle injury for the past two months.
As instrumental as Mitchell has been with the changes that have happened this week, the former All Blacks and US Eagles coach believes it is important to maintain continuity and consistency within the team and give every player an opportunity to prove their value.
“It’s important to have player continuity and it is the one way to become cohesive. There has been thought that has gone into managing the athlete as well if you look at Schoeman and Odendaal, they’ve had huge loads to carry in a number of games towards the end of Super Rugby and in the Currie Cup,” said Mitchell.
"While I have an eye on the short term, we’ve got great depth in this club and it is important to make sure that every player has the opportunity, should he meet the standards during the week. Likewise, we will manage the players. We’ve also got a long-term plan to deal with and we have to make sure that our athletes remain healthy."
Blue Bulls team: Warrick Gelant, Jamba Ulengo, Dries Swanepoel, JT Jackson, Kefentse Mahlo, Tony Jantjies, Andre Warner, Nic de Jager (capt), Jannes Kirsten, Boom Prinsloo, Ruben van Heerden, Abongile Nonkontwana, Conraad van Vuuren, Jan-Henning Campher, Lizo Gqoboka; REPLACEMENTS: Edgar Marutlulle, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Clyde Davids, Jano Venter, Piet van Zyl, Marnitz Boshoff, Johnny Kotze