Springbok hooker Schalk Brits has shaken off a calf injury and will start at No 2 for the Bulls against his former team, the Stormers, in Saturday’s Super Rugby opener at Loftus Versfeld.
The 37-year-old Brits, who last played Super Rugby in 2011, picked up a calf niggle in last week’s 7-7 draw against Sharks in the Bulls’ final warm-up in Ballito, and was in doubt for the Loftus showdown.
But coach Pote Human included Brits and another ex-Stormers stalwart, Duane Vermeulen, in the starting line-up for Saturday’s clash (5.15pm kickoff).
Vermeulen will run out in the No 8 jersey in his first Super Rugby match since 2015, and will have two powerful figures in Hanro Liebenberg and Ruan Steenkamp alongside him in the loose trio.
Brits, meanwhile, will be surrounded by internationals in the tight-five – Bok tourist Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane in the front row, and Jason Jenkins and captain Lood de Jager at lock.
Embrose Papier has won the nod at scrumhalf ahead of Ivan van Zyl, and he will provide the attacking direction in the backline with Handré Pollard.
Bok fullback Warrick Gelant also returns from a long-term injury, and Blitzbok star Rosko Specman makes his Bulls Super Rugby debut at left wing.
The Bulls appear to be the stronger outfit on paper, but Human believes the Stormers will have the edge going into the game.
“Recent history shows how formidable the Stormers have been. They have won seven of their last nine games against us, so will have more than enough confidence coming here,” Human said on the Bulls website.
“That said, we did beat them here last year, so if we apply what we trained, I firmly believe we can do that again.”
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De Jager added: “We held the lead in three of our last matches at halftime and only won once, so it is imperative that we not only start well, but sustain our efforts for the full 80 minutes.
“There is massive excitement and expectation amongst the squad this year, and we are keen to go out and play the best rugby we can.”
15 Warrick Gelant 14 Johnny Kotze 13 Jessie Kriel 12 Burger Odendaal 11 Rosko Specman 10 Handré Pollard 9 Embrose Papier 8 Duane Vermeulen 7 Hanro Liebenberg 6 Ruan Steenkamp 5 Lood de Jager (captain) 4 Jason Jenkins 3 Trevor Nyakane 2 Schalk Brits 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Bench: 16 Corniel Els 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen 19 Eli Snyman 20 Thembelani Bholi 21 Ivan van Zyl 22 Manie Libbok 23 Dylan Sage.@ashfakmohamed