Vodacom Bulls coach Pote Human has made two changes and a positional switch to the team that played against the Brumbies last weekend. Springbok scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl is back in the No 9 jersey, replacing Andre Warner who moves to the bench.
Paul Schoeman moves from the side of the scrum to No 8, where he fills the gap left by the departure of Duane Vermeulen, who has returned home because of injury and national team resting protocols. As a result, Marco van Staden moves up from the bench into the starting fifteen at openside flank.
With Springboks Handre Pollard and Vermeulen not available, experienced midfielder Burger Odendaal has been entrusted with the captaincy.
The Blues beat the Chiefs in their last home fixture, which was their fifth victory in their last six home games, while the Vodacom Bulls will have to improve their away record if they want to return home with a winning tally. They are currently third on the SA conference table with 32 points from 13 games, including seven wins, and four points adrift of the Jaguares who are leading the local standings.
Looking at their history in Auckland, it’s a tough ask for the Vodacom Bulls – their only victory in New Zealand over the Blues was by 28-21 in 2013, which is also the last time they won a match in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
What they said:
Vodacom Bulls head coach Pote Human said they need to start well against the home side, who have won 11 of their 12 home games against the men from Pretoria: “We need to get a good start and sustain that throughout the match. They have some quality players, but the real test will be in the set-pieces. The Blues have the best scrum success rate (97%) in the competition, so that will be a critical area for us.”
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 TJ Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson (co-captain), 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (co-captain), 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons Leni Apisai, 1 Alex Hodgman. Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Lua Li, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Hoskins Sotutu, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Tanielu Tele’a.
Vodacom Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Rosko Spekman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Andre Warner, 22 JT Jackson, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Head to head:
Blues won: 13
Vodacom Bulls won: 7
Blues points: 714
Vodacom Bulls points: 545
Average score: 34-26
Date: Friday, 31 May
SA time: 09h35
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Dan Waenga
Television Match Official: Ben Skeen