“WE will improve this weekend, there’s no doubt about that,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said ahead of his side’s clash tonight with the Hurricanes.
The Bulls return to the scene of their defeat in their opening Super Rugby match against the Stormers last week – Loftus Versfeld.
But considering that the last time the Hurricanes beat the Bulls in Pretoria was in 2008, and that the last time the visitors, who beat the Lions last week, won more than one game on South African soil in one season was in 2006, Ludeke’s side may have a slight edge over the Kiwis.
This week, following the disappointment of the 29-17 defeat to the Stormers, has been one of introspection for the Pretoria side. Now they are looking for immediate redemption in the hope of staking their claim as contenders for the Super 15 title.
“We have to take responsibility for what happened last week,” captain Pierre Spies said.
“We’ve had a hard look at ourselves and the guys have been really working hard to get that result and performance [tonight].”
Spies, who came off the bench last week, will be making his first start for the Bulls since he was forced out with a two-year biceps injur y.
The Hurricanes will also be welcoming back a legend of their own. All Black centre Ma’a Nonu will be donning a Canes jersey for the first time since 2011.
Four years ago, the All Black was deemed surplus to requirement by former Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett.
After a nomadic period which saw him play for the Blues, Highlanders and in Japan, he will make his return this weekend under new coach Chris Boyd.
He missed last weekend’s 22-8 win over the Lions because of the birth of his third child.
The 32-year-old will be an added boost to the Hurricanes backline, which Ludeke is expecting will run the ball ragged.
There will be first-time starts on either side today. Jesse Kriel elevates to the fullback throne, while at the Canes flanker Callum Gibbins will also get his first start.
Ludeke also speaks highly of the Hurricanes’ defence, which he expects to be one of the areas that will be the strength of the visitors.
“They have a strong defence – a definitely more improved defence system to the past. Their work rate is incredible and they are competitive in the collision,” the Bulls coach said.
“Like all New Zealand sides, their front-foot ball gets the game going. They are a dangerous side. They are a class outfit from No 1 to 15, and also on the bench.
“We back ourselves as well. We also have some great players. So it’s about putting in an 80-minute performance to get the results.” The teams are: Bulls: Jesse Kriel, Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard, Handre Pollard, Piet van Zyl, Pierre Spies, Lappies Labuschagne, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield, Jacques du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Morne Mellett
Replacements: Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling, Grant Hattingh, Hanro Liebenberg, Rudy Paige, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Jurgen Visser, Dayan van der Westhuizen
Hurricanes: Jason Woodward, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Blade Thomson, Callum Gibbins, Brad Shields, James Broadhurst, Mark Abbott, Ben Franks, Dane Coles, Reggie Goodes
Replacements: Brayden Mitchell, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Chris Eves, Ardie Sevea, Victor Vito, Chris Smylie, James Marshall, Matt Proctor