PRETORIA - There was always going to be something familiar and also something new about the Bulls ahead of their Super Rugby opener against the Hurricanes at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
As familiar as the Hurricanes will be with Loftus, the once insurmountable venue in the southern hemisphere, they will also have to quickly familiarise themselves with seeing Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard at number 10 for the Bulls and he remains as dangerous as ever before.
With a few years under his belt at Super Rugby level and after some career threatening injuries, Pollard is back in his familiar spot and ready to unleash all of the frustration and promise that comes with being a boy wonder yet to fulfil his potential.
“He is looking very healthy. Health is a critical starting point in order to become robust. He’s certainly done something about how he fuels his body, he’s lean and is on the pitch every day working on his game. He is becoming resilient as well. We are not going to get 18 games out of the guy, we are meant to manage his load as well, but if we’ve got him for majority of the games it augurs well. It is not about showing the public because he will do that naturally. It is about him proving it to himself,” Mitchell said about Pollard.
But it will be in the new and in the form of the raw but hugely talented flank Thembelani Bholi that the Bulls will bank on surprising the Hurricanes even though the Eastern Cape born loose forward has already played Super Rugby for the Southern Kings.
Bholi was a bit of a shock inclusion in the Bulls starting line-up after failing to make the initial Super Rugby squad last month but it was his hard toil and willingness to do the hard yards that convinced Mitchell that he is ready for the big time.
'Difficult to stop'
While Bholi is a quiet and unassuming person, Mitchell is hoping that the unstoppable beast on the field that he has been in preseason will come to life against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
“He is enjoyed by his peers, he is very quiet in the way he goes about things and he eliminated some of the errors in the trial games. When he first started preseason, naturally like guys who come to a big club, it can be nerve wrecking and he wasn’t aligned to how we do things so it took him a while. But he has really demonstrated excellent work both on and off the field. He’s leaned up enormously and the guys say he is pretty as well. I wouldn’t like to run into him and hopefully a few Hurricanes don’t enjoy running into him either,” Mitchell said.
In a Bulls team that still looks familiar to the ones that dismally failed to impress in the last two seasons, there is enough newness and winds of change from unfamiliar faces in the management and playing personnel to anticipate a better Bulls side with better results especially against New Zealand sides.
“Ultimately we’ve gone for the best mix based on the way we’ve prepared and the athletes have performed during the trial phase. It will be the first performance and at the end of the day when we decide to outwork teams then we’ll be very difficult to stop. So we hope that starts this weekend,” Mitchell added.
Bulls team: Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Johnny Kotze, Handre Pollard, Andre Warner, Hanro Liebenberg, Thembelani Bholi, Roelof Smit, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Frans van Wyk, Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka, Conraad van Vuuren, Nic de Jager, Marco van Staden, Embrose Papier, Marnitz Boshoff, Divan Rossouw.
Hurricanes team: Matt Proctor, Julian Savea, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Ihaia West, TJ Perenara, Gareth Evans, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields (captain), Sam Lousi, Vaea Fifita, Ben May, Ricky Ricctelli, Toby Smith. Replacements: James O'Reilly, Chris Eves, Alex Fidow, Murray Douglas, Blade Thomson, Jamie Booth, Beauden Barrett, Ben Lam.