Former Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss is in line to equal the record for the most Super Rugby appearances by any South African when the Bulls take on the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday morning.
Fellow Bulls players Blitzbok Tim Agaba (No 8) and Junior Springbok Embrose Papier (No 9) will make their first starts in the competition in the 8.35am (SA time) kickoff.
Bulls coach John Mitchell had a strong message for his team: “To beat the Crusaders, you need to outwork them. That will not be easy, as they have a tremendous work ethic as a team. We are not on this journey to become a better team because it is easy, so we must be prepared to play for all 80 minutes and play every big moment to the best of our ability.”
A few hours later the Sharks will also attempt to get their tour back on track when they meet the much-improved Rebels at 10.45am (SA time) in Melbourne.
The Stormers, who bagged a superb win against the Blues last weekend, face the Reds at 5.15pm at Newlands on Saturday and in the final match of the weekend, the Lions will be eager to end their winless streak in Argentina when they tackle the Jaguares at 9.40pm in Buenos Aires.
Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck said his team have their sights on making another step-up in their performance levels this weekend: “It was great to get back to winning ways at home last week, but we are certainly not taking anything for granted. We want to go out there and improve in a number of areas, to maintain the positive trajectory we are on.”
Bulls coach John Mitchell made several changes to his starting line-up that lost to the Chiefs for visit to Christchurch. Apart from Agaba and Papier, he also picked lock Jason Jenkins as replacement for the injured RG Snyman, while Jesse Kriel will earn his 50th Super Rugby cap against the defending champions.
The 32-year-old Strauss, who was again selected on the bench, is in line to equal Victor Matfield’s SA record of 148 matches at this level.
Strauss, who made his Super Rugby debut for the Pretorians way back in 2006 and is on 50 caps for them, also played 97 times for the Cheetahs.
Included on the bench for the home team is All Black prop Wyatt Crockett, who is the most-capped Super Rugby player of all time, with 191 appearances at this level.
The Sharks’ starting selection shows several tweaks in an attempt to combat the Rebels. Wings Sbu Nkosi and Lwazi Mvovo trade places with Kobus van Dyk and Makazole Mapimpi while Marius Louw replaces the injured Andre Esterhuizen at inside centre. Up front, fit-again Jean-Luc du Preez returns as blindside flank and Tendai Mtawarira is back in the front row after he was a late withdrawal last weekend.
Sharks Robert du Preez said his players have a lot of character and are determined to bounce back strongly: “Vodacom Super Rugby is a tough competition and you have to take the good with the bad and move on from disappointment, which we have. It’s an absolute priority to start well against the Rebels and I have no doubt that if we do start well and we get on a roll, we will be difficult to stop.”
The Stormers made four changes for encounter with the Reds in Cape Town, where they will be chasing their third home win of the season. Craig Barry has been selected at fullback in place of Springbok Dillyn Leyds, who has a calf injury. Cobus Wiese will start at blindside flank, meaning a shift back to lock for Pieter-Steph du Toit, while in the front row JC Janse van Rensburg starts at loosehead in a rotational switch with Steven Kitshoff.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin made eight changes to his side that edged the Sunwolves by just two points last week in a bid to secure a first away win against the Jaguares.
De Bruin insisted he has picked a strong starting team to face the Jaguares: “We are making one or two changes, nothing drastic. It is more or less how we played two, three weeks ago with some of the guys. We’re giving Robbie (Coetzee) a run because Malcolm (Marx) needs a rest and will come off the bench. Kwagga will move to No eight. We trained a lot like that and we played Currie Cup like that, so he will be used to it.”
The Argentineans have beaten the Highvelders in each of their previous two visits to Buenos Aires.
Part of the reshuffling sees hooker Malcolm Marx, the SA Rugby Player of the Year, rotated to the bench while winger Sylvian Mahuza comes back into the run-on team.
Kwagga Smith plays at No eight and Marco van Vuren gets his debut in the No nine jersey, with Ross Cronje out injured.