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Team Preview: The Bulls

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allblacks.com     31 Jan 2018     Getty Images

Home: Loftus Versfeld Stadium
Last Season: 15th

Squad:

Pierre Schoeman, Trevor Nyakane, Lizo Gqoboka, Conraad van Vuuren, Frans van Wyk, Matthys Basson, Gerhard Steenekamp, Jaco Visagie, Adriaan Strauss, Edgar Marutlulle, Jason Jenkins, RG Snyman, Lood de Jager, Aston Fortuin, Ruben van Heerden, Roelof Smit, Hanro Liebenberg, Ruan Steenkamp, Jannes Kirsten, Nic de Jager, Tim Agaba, Ivan van Zyl, Andre Warner, Embrose Papier, Handre Pollard, Marnitz Boshoff, Manie Libbok, Jesse Kriel, Johnny Kotze, Burger Odendaal, Francois Brummer, JT Jackson, Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jamba Ulengo, Duncan Matthews, Jade Stighling, Divan Rossouw.

QUICK TAP: SUPER RUGBY REFEREES ANNOUNCED FOR 2018

Key signing:
Depth at first five-eighths is important for any side and Marnitz Boshoff has returned to South Africa after securing an early release on compassionate grounds with Connacht in Ireland. Able to play at five-eighths or fullback he played 30 games for the Lions between 2013-2016 and will offer both competition and back-up for Pollard. He has one Test appearance and served his apprenticeship under long-time Springbok Morné Steyn.

Game breaker: 

First five-eighths Handré Pollard has been plagued by injury concerns since breaking into Super Rugby – since 2014 he has played only 31 games - but is looking to have a big season with the Bulls as they set about restoring their place in the game. There is little doubt that in his best form Pollard is the sort of five-eighths who can break open any team and his role will be important for the side. With emphasis on the Springbok side, he will also have the chance to use an improved Bulls side as a vehicle to securing the five-eighths role for himself in future.

Returning veteran:
Lock Lood de Jager will have an important role to play in the Bulls pack where after a quiet season last year he should have the chance to make a significant impact. Since the departure of legends Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, the Bulls lineout has not been the great force that dominated contests at Loftus Versfeld, especially, and de Jager will be seen as a key contributor in that role. While having made only 10 appearances for the Bulls last season, he played 40 times for the Cheetahs before transferring to the Bulls and along the way he has made 36 Test appearances since 2014.

The Scoop:
Coach John Mitchell's decision to eliminate halfback Rudy Paige from his squad in the quest for faster halfbacks suggests he is looking to play a game of more pace this year. Twenty-year-old Embrose Papier is seen as a player capable of effecting quick clearance of the ball and with Test star Pollard, another Springbok in Boshoff and Junior Springboks five-eighths Manie Libbok outside him, there is a clear demonstration that the Bulls are looking to develop these players with a longer term view. It is a tricky balance when players are new to the Super Rugby level of the game but the potential benefits, especially under Pollard's guidance, could see a significant boost to the Bulls performances. However, the key point will be ensuring those players receive quality ball and restoring the strength to the Bulls pack will be another requirement in the side's approach.