Super Rugby: Frans Ludeke reveals his starting XV for Sharks curtain-raiser
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has revealed his starting line-up for the Super Rugby opener against the Sharks on Saturday.
Last Updated: 15/02/14 9:42pm
Ludeke has named a number of debutants in a youthful side which will be captained by Pierre Spies; while veteran Victor Matfield, who came out of retirement to sign for the Bulls, features among the replacements.
Despite finishing top of the South African conference last term, the Bulls head into the first weekend as 'underdogs' against the Sharks, who boast a plethora of international experience.
Spies acknowledged the Sharks' strength in depth but believes the challenge could bring out the best in the Bulls' emerging talent.
"The Sharks should be one of the pre-tournament favourites," Spies claimed. "They have a lot of Springboks in their team, have loads of experience in the decision-making positions and will be playing in front of a very passionate crowd.
"This is exactly the type of challenges we like as a team and will go to Durban with a lot of determination and motivation.
"We have some goals to achieve and worked hard to make sure we are ready to compete against any team at any venue.
"The younger guys in our team bring a lot of energy to our effort and I am pretty pleased to have them in my side, rather than playing against them."
Ludeke has the luxury of former captain Matfield among his replacements and the prop forward will join former Sharks AJ Venter and John Smit in becoming the most capped South African Super Rugby players should he feature in his 125th match.
"We all know what Victor is capable of," Ludeke said. "He showed in training and our friendly match that he is still right up there amongst the best and I am confident that he will make a telling contribution when called upon."
Deon Stegmann failed a fitness test due to a groin injury on Wednesday and was not considered, which gives Jono Ross a starting opportunity in the back row.
Fellow flanker, Jacques du Plessis, will don the number seven jersey for the first time after an appearance at lock in his Super Rugby debut in 2013.
Springbok scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, who joined from the Cheetahs, will play off the bench, as will Jacques Engelbrecht, another off-season signing from the Southern Kings.
Ludeke is confident the Bulls can challenges the Sharks and believes precise execution could reap rewards for the Pretoria-based side.
"We have identified certain areas where we will have to dominate and I think we have the right combinations in place to achieve that," he said.
"This is going to be a typical South African derby with a lot of focus on the breakdown and to dominate the advantage line.
"We respect the Sharks, but if we are accurate and play our rugby in the right areas of the field, we should get some reward for that."
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 J J Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouche, 9 Francois Hougaard, 1 Dean Greyling, 2 Callie Visagie, 3 Werner Kruger, 4 Paul Willemse , 5 Flip van der Merwe, 6 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 8 Pierre Spies (capt).
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Victor Matfield, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Handre Pollard, 22 Ulrich Beyers, 23 Marcel vd Merwe.