Francois Hougaard will ensure the Bulls finish their Super Rugby campaign on a positive note with a win against the Rebels at Loftus on Friday night. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
Hougaard will start on the left wing for only the third time this season with Bulls coach Frans Ludeke looking to give several fringe players, including back-up scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, a run in their last match of the tournament.
Hougaard wore the No 11 jersey during the Bulls' tour, against the Highlanders and Waratahs, with mixed success. But with the pressure off both the Bulls and the Rebels – neither has anything to lose on Friday – the match should open up and afford Hougaard the chance to showcase his attacking skills in a position many still believe is his best.
Other interesting selections include Roelof Smit at openside flank and Junior Boks star Jesse Kriel on the bench. Without a specialist fetcher, the Bulls have made just 97 turnovers this season (only the Brumbies, with 81, have made less) and they will be hoping that Smit gets stuck in at the breakdown. Kriel, who was part of the extended Bulls Super Rugby squad before being sent to play for the Vodacom Cup side, should make his Super Rugby debut during the second half at fullback or outside centre.
Ludeke has responded to the Bulls' poor scrumming performance at Newlands, where they lost 16-0 to the Stormers, by selecting a new front row in Morné Mellet, Bandise Maku and Marcel van der Merwe. The Bulls will be expect to dominate the lineouts with Victor Matfield, who stole three of the Stormers' throws last week, in the No 5 jersey once again. The Bulls have won the highest proportion of lineouts (91%) in the competition and caused their opponents to have the lowest success rate (78%), while the Rebels’ opponents have won a Super Rugby high 91% of their own lineouts.
The Rebels have made several changes to the team that lost 34-17 to the Lions last week. Luke Jones moves to blindside flank, Cadeyrn Neville replaces Jones at No 5 lock and Colby Fainga'a shifts to No 8. Injuries to Tom Kingston and Bryce Hegarty see Jason Woodward and Telusa Veainu return to the backline, with Jack Debreczeni moving to flyhalf and Woodward replacing him at fullback.
The Bulls and Rebels have met just once at Loftus before, in 2011, with the hosts winning 47-10.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 2, Rebels 0
In Pretoria: Bulls 1, Rebels 0
HOUGAARD'S STATS THAT MATTER
13 – The number of matches he's started at scrumhalf this season
2 – The number of matches he's started on the left wing (against the Highlanders in Dunedin and the Waratahs in Sydney)
7 – The number of tries he scored for the Bulls in the 2010 Super 14 when he played on the wing
45 – The number of loose ball he's collected this season (Rank 1)
568 – The number of passes he's made (Rank 9)
101 – The number of kicks from hand he's made (Rank 12)
Source: sarugby.co.za & Vodacom Stats App
Bulls – 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Jono Ross, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Morné Mellet.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Dean Greyling, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Marvin Orie, 21 Jesse Kriel, 22 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23 William Small-Smith.
Rebels – 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Colby Fainga'a, 7 Scott Fuglistaller (c), 6 Luke Jones, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Alex Rokobaro.
Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix