While the Bulls' PRO14 Rainbow Cup squad moves into final preparations in Italy, a young Currie Cup group gears up for the opening round against Western Province in Pretoria on Saturday.
Stand-in coach Pine Pienaar will take the reins in the absence of Jake White and will be assisted by Hayden Groepes and Edgar Marutlulle. The trio are no strangers to the group as they have been working tirelessly within the Bulls junior structures over the last few years.
The squad will be headlined by the return of Loftus prodigy, Simphiwe 'Beast' Matanzima. The burly prop made a massive impact since his introduction to senior rugby, with his name even being thrown around the green and gold by media and fans alike. Returning from a long-term injury setback, Matanzima will be looking to pick up where he left off.
He will be accompanied by Francois Klopper in the front row, with Werner Fourie at hooker. They will be backed in the scrum by JJ Scheepers and Tiaan de Klerk grinding in the engine room, with loose forwards Henco Beukes, Jaco Labuschagne and Jaco Bezuidenhout rounding out the forwards.
It's a big weekend for the Kriel family, as live-wire Richard Kriel takes the No 15 jersey to make his Currie Cup debut, while his brother David will more than likely also don No 15 in Italy. Further wide, hot-stepping Sebastiaan Jobb and Kefentse Mahlo will be given an opportunity to spread their wings. The midfield will be marshalled by captain Sango Xamlashe at outside centre and Louritz van der Schyff in the No 12 jersey.
The exciting halfback pairing of flyhalf Jandre Burger, younger brother of Zac Burger who's also bound to represent the Bulls in Italy, and Johan Mulder at scrumhalf will be aiming to provide the perfect attack platform.
Fans can also expect the unleashing of another beast when Mhleli Dlamini gets off the bench to make his much anticipated professional debut. There has been a lot of hype in the media, especially on social media, around the prop, better known as 'Big G', and he will no doubt be looking to make his first official outing count.
Pienaar reaffirmed his believe in the system and his young group.
"Jake, together with the management team have put in a lot of effort in aligning our structures at Loftus at all levels since his appointment. So, we know exactly what is expected of us, and we know what needs to be done. This is a talented group, even in the absence of a ton of senior and contracted players due to Rainbow Cup, Bok duty, National Under-20 call ups and also a few untimely injuries. I am truly excited to see these boys step up and use this opportunity to stake a claim."
There are no fewer than 44 players unavailable for Saturday's clash against Western Province: 28 have travelled to Italy, four are with the Springboks, four are out due to injuries, two are on duty with the Blitzboks and six have been called up to the Junior Springboks.
The game will be recorded as the largest number of debutants in a single professional game for the men in blue, with only two of the match-day 23 having seen Currie Cup action before, that being Matanzima and Mahlo.
Saturday's clash at Loftus Versfeld kicks-off at 16:00.
?? TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT ??— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) June 17, 2021
Here is the side to take on DHL Western Province on Saturday ??
Incredibly 44 players cant’t be considered for the game and it will be the largest number of debutants in a single pro-match for the men in blue.
It’s a young team, but an exciting one ?? pic.twitter.com/9QTYmCkkvC
15 Richard Kriel, 14 Sebastiaan Jobb, 13 Sango Xamlashe (captain), 12 Louritz van der Schyff, 11 Kefentse Mahlo, 10 Jandre Burger, 9 Johan Mulder, 8 Jaco Bezuidenhout, 7 Jaco Labuschagne, 6 Henco Beukes, 5 Tiaan de Klerk, 4 JJ Scheepers, 3 Francois Klopper, 2 Werner Fourie, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima
Substitutes (from): 16 Llewelyn Classen, 17 Dewald Donald, 18 Mhleli Dlamini, 19 Adolph Visser, 20 Eduan Lubbe, 21 Tiaan Fourie, 22 Kabelo Mokoena, 23 Niel Beukes, 24 Uzile Tele
15 Sergeal Petersen, 14 Sihle Njezula, 13 Rikus Pretorius, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Abner van Reenen, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Niel Otto, 5 David Meihuizen, 4 Ernst van Rhyn (captain), 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 JJ Kotze, 1 Ali Vermaak
Substitutes (from): 16 Sazi Sandi, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Cornel Smit, 24 Jason Alexander, 25 De Wet Marais, 26 Chris Schreuder