Looking to play a mobile game, the Blues have made key changes in their loose forwards and backline ahead of their Investec Super Rugby game with the Bulls in Pretoria on Sunday (NZT).
Livewire blindside flanker Tom Robinson will be back in the loose after filling locking roles in earlier games while Tony Lambourn will start on the openside flank. That allows Jacob Pierce his first start at lock this season.
In the backs, Otere Black will play at first five-eighths, Stephen Perofeta at fullback and Harry Plummer at second five-eighths.
Coach Leon MacDonald said the rationale behind the selection was they had picked a team with the ability to find the space they are looking for with the playmakers having the skill sets required.
“We want to play a smarter game at altitude so there’s got to be a bit of kicking, I’m picking but [they are] good communicators to the space and the ability to be able to get the ball there if you want to,” he said.
Black’s return from injury made the choice possible. He had been working hard, especially over the last two weeks as he recovered from a rib injury that he had suffered before, and he deserved his chance to start.
“Stevie’s probably one of our form players, especially with ball in hand. He’s been pretty electric and he played there pre-season for us last year and was outstanding before picking up his season-ending injury so we know he’s really capable.
“He’s an all-rounder, his skill sets – under the high ball he’s strong and he’s got a good kicking game, he sees space and he communicates that well. He’s an exciting prospect at fullback,” he said.
Plummer had played a lot at second five-eighths, especially in age-group rugby.
“He’s a big, strong guy and I think he suits 12 the way he plays, he’s quite physical in his carry and the way he tackles and in breakdown work,” he said.
Another consideration was managing the team well and TJ Faiane had already clocked a lot of minutes and they needed to ensure they had cover in all positions.
They realised that Faiane played a lot of minutes last year and had suffered for that toward the end of the season.
MacDonald said the loose forward selection was exciting. Robinson was back on the blindside of the scrum where he was so impressive last year and that gave the Blues more height at lineout time.
“And he’s a hard worker which we’re going to need out there at altitude and he’s pretty quick as well.
“Tony has impressed us the way he trains and the way he plays. When the handbrake comes off he doesn’t stop until the end.
“We’ve got Dalton [Papalii] coming off the bench. He’s played some big minutes and this will allow us to bring a quality player with energy off the bench and obviously Hoskins has probably been the form eight of the competition so it’s hard to leave him out anywhere at the moment. He’s just going better and better every week.
“It’s an exciting loose forward trio, we’re pretty confident,” he said.
Captain and lock Patrick Tuipulotu said in Josh Goodhue’s absence he would be taking on the lineout calling which would leave Jacob Pierce to concentrate on performing his role in the side.
“We’ve come up with a new plan which is exciting for us. We’ve had a hoodoo on us in terms of how our lineout went the last couple of weeks which is not good enough to win Super Rugby games but we’ve been putting in the work,” he said.
“We can’t wait to get some good lineout ball this week.”
He was expecting the Bulls, who have yet to win this year and who have come off a bye, would be looking to beat the Blues up in the tight exchanges.
“They’re a big forward pack and obviously tall as well. They’ve got the height on us but we back our mobility and our game to get around the park and try to beat them around the park,” he said.
“With that we’ve got to look after our set-piece, they’ll be coming hard there with a big scrum and a big maul so we’ve got plans in place to do the job there,” he said.
MacDonald said the side had benefited from touring as it had allowed them to connect more through meetings and discussions and that had increased the level of excitement in the team.
Centre Joe Marchant has retained his place at centre. MacDonald said he was still finding his way with the faster speed of the New Zealand game. But he had brought good energy and a work rate that was among the highest in the side by the measures available.
“He works hard and now he’s really settled in and familiar with the patterns and the players and he’s starting to communicate even better. He’s been a real find for us and we’re really thrilled for Joe and hopefully he can continue growing his game and showing his good form,” he said.
THE BULLS HAVE PLAYED THE BLUES 19 TIMES IN SUPER RUGBY SINCE 1998, THE BULLS HAVE WON SEVEN MATCHES, LOST 11 TIMES AND DRAWN ONCE.
The Bulls seven wins out of 19 matches give them a record of winning 37% of their matches against the Blues regardless of venue.
This weekend the match will be played in Pretoria, which is home for the Bulls and the venue where the teams have met seven times.
In those seven matches played on the Highveld, the South Africans have won five games and lost twice. It gives them a record of winning 71% of their matches against the Blues at home.
The three-time Super Rugby champions won the last match against the New Zealanders in Pretoria, but the visitors won the game before that.
Average score when the Bulls play the Blues in Pretoria: Bulls 36 Blues 29.
The Kiwis have not won in the city since 2014; these teams have missed each other in the draw for Loftus Versfeld in recent years.
Average score: Bulls 26 Blues 33
Last five results
Fri, 31 May 2019 Bulls 22-22 Blues @Auckland
Sat, 25 Mar 2017 Bulls 14-38 Blues @Auckland
Fri, 15 May 2015 Bulls 18-23 Blues @Auckland
Sat, 08 Mar 2014 Bulls 38-22 Blues @Pretoria
Sun, 10 Mar 2013 Bulls 28-21 Blues @Auckland
Bulls overall record against the Blues
Played 19, Wins 7, Losses 11, Draws 1
15. Warrick Gelant 14. Cornal Hendricks 13. Johnny Kotze 12. Burger Odendaal © 11. Rosko Specman 10. Morné Steyn 9. Ivan van Zyl 8. Josh Strauss 7. Wian Vosloo 6. Jeandré Rudolph 5. Juandré Kruger 4. Andries Ferreira 3. Trevor Nyakane 2. Jaco Visagie 1. Lizo Gqoboka
Reserves: 16. Corniel Els 17. Gerhard Steenekamp 18. Wiehahn Herbst 19. Ruan Nortje 20. Ruan Steenkamp 21. Embrose Papier 22. Manie Libbok 23. Divan Rossouw
15. Stephen Perofeta 14. Emoni Narawa 13. Joe Marchant 12. Harry Plummer 11. Mark Telea 10. Otere Black 9. Jonathan Ruru 8. Hoskins Sotutu 7. Tony Lamborn 6. Tom Robinson 5. Jacob Pierce 4. Patrick Tuipulotu © 3. Sione Mafileo 2. James Parsons 1. Karl Tu’inukuafe
Reserves: 16. Kurt Eklund 17. Ezekiel Lindenmuth 18. Ofa Tuungafasi 19. Aaron Carroll 20. Dalton Papalii 21. Sam Nock 22. TJ Faiane 23. Matt Duffie
Match Officials and details
Date: Saturday 22 February
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-Off local: 17:15
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Ref 1: Cwengile Jadezweni Assistant Ref 2: Divan Uys
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans