Vodacom Bulls lock Flip van der Merwe will play in his 50th Vodacom Super Rugby match when his team takes on the Western Force at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Van der Merwe has played six of those for the Toyota Cheetahs whilst still a student in Bloemfontein and the commerce graduate has since reeled off 43 matches for the Bulls.
The lock will again combine with Juandrè Kruger in the engine room, but is behind them in the scrum where the most significant changes are to the team that beat the DHL Stormers last weekend.
Both Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann picked up injuries in that win and will be replaced by Jacques Potgieter and Arno Botha respectively. Jean Cook comes into the reserves and will make his Super Rugby debut if he takes to the field.
In another change at the back, Lionel Mapoe moves from wing to outside centre in place of injured JJ Engelbrecht, with Akona Ndungane moving to the right wing berth for his 85th match in Bulls colours. Ndungane has been bracketed with Sampie Mastriet, with the latter to make his debut if Ndungane’s ankle injury flares up again.
Jan Serfontein has also been named on the bench, but has a hip strain and if ruled out, Francois Venter will again play in the number 22 shirt.
Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke was pleased to have experience to fall back on, but warned that it guarantees nothing against an opponent that has beaten the Bulls at Loftus before.
“Last week was last week. We are grateful for the win, but this week we face a new opponent that will post new challenges. The Western Force has been a difficult opponent in the past and will again ask questions to our all round game and our defence. We have prepared well though and will be looking forward to the challenge.”
Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies admitted that a good performance would be paramount for his side before they embark on their overseas leg of the competition.
“We cannot look past this match as it will determine the mind-set we will take onto tour. So this is a very important match for us,” Spies said.
The team to play the Western Force (with Super caps) is: Zane Kirchner (72), Akona Ndungane (84)/Sampie Mastriet (0), Lionel Mapoe (29), Wynand Olivier (104), Bjorn Basson (43), Mornè Steyn (107), Francois Hougaard (46), Pierre Spies (90, c), Arno Botha (11), Jacques Potgieter (13), Juandrè Kruger (18), Flip van der Merwe (49), Werner Kruger (76), Chiliboy Ralepelle (53), Mornè Mellett (1). Replacements: Willie Wepener (54), Frik Kirsten (16), Grant Hattingh (10), Jean Cook (0), Jano Vermaak (89), Louis Fouchè (10), Jan Serfontein (0)/Francois Venter (9).