Bulls captain Burger Odendaal is back in the starting line-up to face the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday after missing the previous two Super Rugby clashes against the Emirates Lions and Reds due to injury.
He takes over the captaincy from Handré Pollard and the inside centre berth from Johnny Kotze for this match, the first of two the visitors will play in New Zealand.
Bulls head coach John Mitchell has made a number of changes to the team that came up short against the Reds in Brisbane, with the return of Odendaal the most significant.
Mitchell opted for Divan Rossouw on the left wing, where he replaces Duncan Matthews in the other change to the backline. Up front, Trevor Nyakane comes in for Frans van Wyk at tighthead and Thembelani Bholi is back at flank, with Hanro Liebenberg moving to number eight where he takes over from injured Nic de Jager.
De Jager had to return home due to a broken rib and his replacement, Tim Agaba, is bracketed as a replacement with Jason Jenkins, who played off the bench in Brisbane.
A final call on Jenkins, who has a niggle, will be made closer to the game and if he is ruled out, Agaba is due to make his Super Rugby debut for the Bulls.
Mitchell also tweaked his finishers for this clash. Conraad van Vuuren is back on the bench in place of promoted Nyakane, while Manie Libbok is another potential debutant for the Bulls. He comes in for Marnitz Boshoff, while Kotze will cover the midfield and outside backs.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us playing the Chiefs in Hamilton,” said Mitchell, who represented Waikato as a player.
“They have been one of the leading teams in the Super Rugby competition over the last couple of years and this is a massive step-up from where we were a year ago. We have definite plans on how to approach this match and how to try to beat the Chiefs. We will have to do a couple of things well to achieve that, including playing as a unit,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell was excited about the possible debut for Libbok. “Manie is such an exciting talent and I believe he will make an impact in this tournament.”
It will also be 50 up for Adriaan Strauss. The hooker will play in his 50th match for the Bulls (97 for Cheetahs as well) and will extend his South African record for Super Rugby appearances as a hooker to 147 when he takes to the field.
Odendaal was confident about the squad’s mental and physical approach.
“We are ready to go and show our abilities. For us to win here, our courage and determination will be tested, but knowing this squad and the way we are developing as a group, I have enough confidence to know that we will be very competitive on Friday.”
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Divan Rossouw, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jason Jenkins/Tim Agaba, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Johnny Kotze
Date: Friday March 16
Venue: Waikato Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Match Officials: TBC