Flip van der Merwe will resume his second-row partnership with Victor Matfield when the Bulls host the Brumbies on Friday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Van der Merwe is back from a three-week suspension, which he received for punching Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan in Sydney, and has also regained the captaincy. With 70 Super Rugby caps and 30 Test appearances, the 28-year-old brings some much-needed experience to the Bulls pack, with Paul Willemse moving to the bench.
In other changes to the team that beat the Stormers two weeks ago, Werner Kruger rotates with Marcel van der Merwe at tighthead prop, and Jacques-Louis Potgieter starts at 10 ahead of Handré Pollard. The latter selection is a bit surprising, considering how well the 20-year-old has performed at pivot recently. Potgieter also has a reliable goal-kicking boot, but he doesn't spark the Bulls backs like Pollard, who likes to attack the advantage line. It would also do Pollard good to be allowed to settle at 10, especially as he is regarded as Bok material and should make his Test debut at some point this year.
The Brumbies have made two changes to their starting XV, with Leon Power back at No 4 lock and Scott Fardy moving to blindside flank.
The Bulls are currently ninth on the combined log, four points behind the sixth-placed Crusaders, and need to win their remaining four matches to stand a chance of reaching the play-offs. They will take heart from the fact that they have yet to lose at home this season and that the second-placed Brumbies are beatable away from home, as the Cheetahs proved last week.
The Bulls have been one of the least threatening attacking sides this season having averaged fewer carries, breaks, defenders beaten and offloads than any other team. They have also scored just one try in the opening 20 minutes of matches this season, while the Brumbies have scored the joint-second most (eight).
However, the hosts will back themselves to dominate the set pieces on Friday. Victor Matfield has won more lineouts (61) than any other player this season, also notching up five lineout steals, while the Brumbies’ scrum success rate (76%) is the lowest in the competition.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 7, Brumbies 11
In Pretoria: Bulls 6, Brumbies 4
VAN DER MERWE'S STATS THAT MATTER
3 – The number of weeks he was suspended for after punching Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan in Sydney
30 – The number of lineouts he has won on his own throw this season (Rank 13)
2 – The number of lineouts he has stolen (Rank 27)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Bulls – 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe (c), 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bongo Mbonambi, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Leon Power, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 JP Smith, 19 Fotu Auelua, 20 Jordan Smiler, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Pat McCabe.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images