Vermeulen returns to the competition for the first time since 2015 having represented the Toyota Cheetahs and DHL Stormers in 109 matches, while Brits – a former Cats and DHL Stormers player – last saw action in the southern hemisphere showpiece in 2011.
Lood de Jager (lock) has taken over the captaincy duties and is one of 10 Springboks in the Vodacom Bulls’ line-up.
Speedster Specman is the only tournament debutant in the run-on team for the home team after their new coach, Pote Human, named the former Springbok Sevens player on the wing.
Specman and replacement back Sage, the Springbok Sevens Player of the Year for 2018, will be up against Nel, who will make his debut for the DHL Stormers in the Capital, along with former Emirates Lions front ranker Corne Fourie.
Nel will start in the midfield next to the experienced Damian de Allende, and Fourie has been included on the bench for the opening round encounter.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi will lead the Capetonians in the No 6 jersey, while 2018 SA Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit is on the other side of the scrum.
What they said:
Vodacom Bulls coach Pote Human does not consider his side as favourites despite playing at home: “Recent history in this fixture shows how formidable the DHL Stormers have been. They’ve won seven of their last nine games against us and will have more than enough confidence coming here. However, we managed to beat them last year at Loftus and I firmly believe we can do it again.”
DHL Stormers Head Coach Robbie Fleck said they are focused on making a convincing start to the 2019 Vodacom Super Rugby season: “Our preparations have gone well, so we are really excited to see what this combination will be able to do this weekend. We would obviously like to make a strong start to the season and will look to deliver in some of the areas we have been focused on in pre-season in order to do that.”
Vodacom Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Jessie Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lood de Jager (captain), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Dylan Sage.
DHL Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 JJ Engelbrecht, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 SP Marais, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak. Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Dan du Plessis.
Head to head (from 1996):
Vodacom Bulls won: 12
DHL Stormers won: 18
Vodacom Bulls points: 700
DHL Stormers points: 703
Average score: 25-25
Date: Saturday, 16 February
SA time: 17h15
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, Egon Seconds
Television Match Official: Marius Jonker