The Sharks will begin their Super Rugby campaign against the Vodacom Bulls at home for the first time since 2015. They have won five of their last seven fixtures when beginning the season on home soil, however, the Bulls are undefeated in their last nine Super Rugby games against the Sharks with a 16-16 draw in March 2016 their only blemish amid that run.
Although the Bulls lost seven of their stars in 2019 they must be confident that the can extend their winning streak against the Sharks to ten. Returning Morné Steyn is joined by two 2019 Rugby World Cup winners in fullback Warrick Gelant and prop Trevor Nyakane.
They are joined by no.8 Josh Strauss, flank Jeandré Rudolph, lock Andries Ferreira and replacement loose forward Wian Vosloo who will be running out for their first cap for the Vodacom Bulls while replacement lock Ryno Pieterse will make his Vodacom Super Rugby debut off the bench.
The rest of the team includes four Springboks in scrumhalves Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier with Cornal Hendricks to flex his speed on the wing, with lock Juandré Kruger adding some grunt to the engine room
Vodacom Bulls head coach, Pote Human, has also opted to select the same 6/2 split between the forwards and backs on the bench as the Springboks did during their successful Rugby World Cup campaign last season.
"We have enjoyed a strong preseason with few injuries which has allowed us to select our strongest available team to take on a well-oiled Cell C Sharks outfit," said Vodacom Bulls head coach, Pote Human.
History favours the visitors with the Vodacom Bulls securing eight wins and a draw in their last nine matches against the Durban team.
"We have a job to do in Durban and we are not taking it lightly. The Cell C Sharks have proved time and time again that they are a dangerous team if underestimated. We are going into the match with level heads and a battle plan in hand."
Centre Lukhanyo Am leads an exciting Cell C Sharks’ team in their opening Vodacom Super Rugby clash with the Vodacom Bulls at Jonsson Kings Park tonight.
Making their run-on debuts are three forwards, loosehead prop Ox Nche, flank James Venter and eighthman Sikumbuzo Notshe who all made the move to Durban late last year. Le Roux Roets (lock) and Henco Venter (loose forward) – also new signings – together with local talents who performed in last year’s Currie Cup, scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba and flyhalf Boeta Chamberlain, play off the bench.
“There’s a strong vibe in the camp and we’re all looking forward to Super Rugby kicking off,” Cell C Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch admits. With Bosch settled in the number 10 jersey, he recognises this as an opportunity to entrench himself. “For me to grow in confidence at 10, I need game time there, that’s how a player gets better and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Opposite him is 35-year-old Springbok Morne Steyn who returns to Pretoria after a stint of French rugby and Bosch admits that Steyn will be an important factor for the men in blue.
“Morne brings a lot of experience to his side, they’ve lost quite a few players overseas and because he’s such a good kicker, we know our discipline and game management need to be really sharp this weekend.
“But we’re going into this weekend’s game with a plan and if we stick to it, the result will take care of itself.”
Cell C Sharks: 15. Aphelele Fassi, 14. Sbu Nkosi, 13. Lukhanyo Am (c), 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Makazole Mapimpi, 10. Curwin Bosch, 9. Louis Schreuder, 8. Sikumbuzo Notshe, 7. Tyler Paul, 6. James Venter, 5. Hyron Andrews, 4. Ruben van Heerden, 3. Thomas du Toit, 2. Kerron van Vuuren, 1. Ox Nche. Replacements: 16. Craig Burden,17. Juan Schoeman,18. John-Hubert Meyer,19. Le Roux Roets, 20. Henco Venter, 21. Sanele Nohamba, 22. Boeta Chamberlain, 23. Jeremy Ward.
Vodacom Bulls: 15. Warrick Gelant, 14. Cornal Hendricks, 13. Johnny Kotze, 12. Burger Odendaal (C), 11. Rosko Specman, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Ivan van Zyl, 8. Josh Strauss, 7. Abongile Nonkontwana, 6. Jeandré Rudolph, 5. Juandré Kruger, 4. Andries Ferreira, 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 2. Jaco Visagie, 1. Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: 16. Johan Grobbelaar, 17. Simphiwe Matanzima, 18. Trevor Nyakane, 19. Ruan Nortje, 20. Ryno Pieterse, 21. Wian Vosloo, 22. Embrose Papier, 23. Manie Libbok