Like it or not but Bulls coach Pote Human have brought Pollard straight into the starting fifteen to lead the Bulls in their final game on tour against the Highlanders.
What has become a must win game, Human has pulled out all the stops to get that important ‘W’ Friday behind their name.
Pollard is not the only change in the backline as Human also brought in Rossouw and Sage for Gelant and Specman.
Sage will move to outside centre with Kotze moving to the wing in place of the injured Specman.
We also finally see Papier come in at nine to partner Pollard as halfbacks for the match. Van Zyl move to the bench as cover with Warner missing out this weekend.
In the pack Human went with the same loose trio that finished the match against the Blues with Van Staden starting at eight with Liebenberg and Steenkamp on the side of the pack.
The tight five will remain the same as last week in an area where the Bulls want to dominate against the Highlanders.
The Highlanders went with an experience pack as they will surely expect a huge onslaught from the Bulls this weekend.
This week will see the return of Liam Squire which will be a huge boost for them.
Josh Mckay will get his first start of the year at fullback and we also see the return of Hemopo and Li.
Luke Whitelock will lead the team in his 100th Super Rugby match which includes 50 matches for the Highlanders.
The Highlanders brings a different kind of challenge. They can keep it tight but have a great attacking mindset if the game open up.
I have been very impressed with their set pieces this year but the danger like form all the New Zealand teams, is their counter attack.
You need to starve them from ball for long periods of time or face a team that can either work through the phases to break down your defence or spread it wide to challenge you on the outside.
It would be interesting how Human will play this game as we know the Bulls can play the percentage game well and build scoreboard pressure through Pollards boot.
The worry is always that you go too conservative against a New Zealand side who can score tries.
Some Interesting Facts (OPTA)
- The Highlanders have won eight of their nine home matches against the Bulls in Super Rugby history (L1), including the last three matches in succession.
- The Highlanders have won their last three Super Rugby games on the bounce against the Bulls despite leading at half-time only once in that time.
- The Highlanders are undefeated in their last three games on the bounce at home in Super Rugby (W2, D1) and haven’t lost at home to a team from outside New Zealand since Round 9, 2016 (vs Sharks).
- The Highlanders have lost their last two games on the bounce against South African opposition; the last time they lost more was a three-game stretch in March 2010 which included a 50-35 defeat to the Bulls.
- The Bulls have lost only two of their last six games away from home in Super Rugby (W3, D1), including a 22-all draw with the Blues in their last start.
- The Bulls have won only one of their last 14 games against New Zealand opposition in Super Rugby (D1, L12), and haven’t won a game in New Zealand since Round 4, 2013.
- Each of the last three Super Rugby games between the Highlanders and Bulls have seen the away side on the day cross for the first try of the game, with the Highlanders striking first in each of their last two meetings.
- The Highlanders and Bulls have each received just two yellow cards thus far in Super Rugby 2019, the joint fewest in the competition along with the Chiefs.
- Sio Tomkinson (Highlanders) has crossed for a try in each of his last three Super Rugby appearances, as well as contributing two try assists in that time.
- Hanro Liebenberg (Bulls) has scored three tries in his last six Super Rugby games – including one in each of his last two – after having not scored in any of his 26 games prior.
Prediction: Really do not believe in conservative approach this end of the season and I believe that is Bulls approach this weekend, Highlanders by 8
Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joshua Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen
Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw , 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Dylan Sage, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handre Pollard (captain) , 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 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 Johan Grobbelaar, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 JT Jackson