Serfontein back for Bulls
The Bulls will play their first match at home in this year's Super Rugby tournament and will host the visitors from the Far East with a much-changed side from the one that lost to the Cheetahs two weeks ago.
Amongst the backs, the return of Springbok World Cup midfielder Jan Serfontein is the most significant. He will play his 49th Super Rugby match, but only his first in the season, after a delayed start due to injury. He replaces Dries Swanepoel in the midfield.
Warrick Gelant will also earn a first start for the year in place of Jesse Kriel, who will start off the bench, while Piet van Zyl will start at scrumhalf for the first time this season. Ivan van Zyl will deputise for his namesake in his debut for the season, with Rudy Paige being rested.
Up front, Lodewyk de Jager has now recovered from the concussion he sustained in the opening weekend of the season and will start at lock with Jason Jenkins. Rudolph Snyman reverts to the bench. Renaldo Bothma is also promoted to a starting berth in place of Jacques Potgieter, who is rested due to concussion, while Pierre Schoeman and Lizo Gqoboko again trade jerseys, with the latter playing off the bench.
Edgar Marutlulle will make a first start at hooker in Super Rugby for the Bulls after playing off the bench in the first two weeks. He replaces Jaco Visagie, who drops out of the matchday squad.
Two regulars from last season will make a first appearance off the bench. Adriaan Strauss and Jannes Kirsten recovered from injury and take over from Marutllule and Ruan Steenkamp respectively.
Steenkamp will start at No.6 in place of Nick de Jager, who drops out of the matchday squad.
According to Marais, the return of so many fit players allowed him to make wholesale changes.
"The likes of Jan [Serfontein] will be keen to get going, while those who is starting for the first time this season will enjoy the extended time on the field," said Marais.
"I believe this will freshen up our effort, which did not deliver the right results for us in the opening two matches. The Sunwolves were unlucky against the Cheetahs and gave the guys in Bloem a bigger fright than we did. We cannot underestimate them and there can be no excuses, but for us to deliver a good performance."
Bulls captain Handré Pollard welcomed the fact that they will be playing at Loftus Versfeld for the first time.
"This is our home and we cannot slip up here, especially if we want to bring the crowds back to Loftus. We had a slow start, but I am confident that we will pick up the pace from here and will be running with the leading pack soon," said Pollard.
"There was good energy in training the last couple of days and I am keen to see how the guys perform Friday night."
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 13 Jamba Ulengo, 12 Handré Pollard (captain), 11 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboko, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Date: Friday, March 17
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19.00 (15.00 GMT; 02.00 Saturday, March 18 JST)
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Stuart Berry
TMO: Willie Vos