The opening match in South Africa is the highly anticipated north-south derby between the Vodacom Bulls and the DHL Stormers in Pretoria on Friday evening.It will be the three time Vodacom Super Rugby champions against the two-time South African Conference winners at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday evening, reports sarugby.co.za.
And while they might not mention it, revenge will not be too far from the minds of the home team and their supporters as the Capetonians left Loftus victorious after their last two visits to the capital city.
Before their wins in 2012 and 2011, the DHL Stormers had not won in Pretoria since 2003! And they lost five on the trot to the Vodacom Bulls between 2005 and 2009, but have won four from their last six derbies against the Vodacom Super Rugby champions of 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Interestingly enough, these two sides have met twice in opening rounds, with the home team losing on both occacions – in 1999 the DHL Stormers crushed the Vodacom Bulls by 42-19 in Pretoria, and more recently, in 2008, the Pretorians won 16-9 in Cape Town.
With both teams fielding experienced sides – only Bulls loosehead Morné Mellett and Stormers inside centre Damian de Allende will be running out for their Vodacom Super Rugby debuts on Friday – this match promises to be a cracker.
"We do have an experienced core of players this year and it is something that hopefully will benefit us," Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said.
"Even Morné Mellett, who will start in his first match, has toured with us and played well in last year's Absa Currie Cup. In this competition one will always be looking at the experienced guys in your team and we are lucky to have a lot of those in important positions."
The Vodacom Bulls will be without three injured Springboks – Dean Greyling, Akona Ndungane and Jacques Potgieter – while Emerging Springbok lock Wilhelm Steenkamp is also out of action with a shoulder injury.
For Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies, the formidable Stormers side provides a strong challenge to his team, especially since the Capetonians won both encounters between the two sides in 2012.
"They are a formidable side, but this competition is all about measuring yourself against the best out there, as a team and on a personal level," said Spies.
"It will be a massive game, as it is not only the traditional north-south derby, it is also two teams with good records in Super Rugby wanting to stake the first claim. We are at home and would like to give our fans something to look forward to this season. The first step is to start well against the Stormers."
But the DHL Stormers also start the season with a number of injured players, most notably three tough Springbok forwards in Schalk Burger, Eben Etzebeth and Tiaan Liebenberg, as well as the fleet-footed Juan de Jongh.
"We're missing some world-class players and we do have four or five players making their Stormers debuts in the match 22, but they are all quality players," said DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, whose team finished in the top two positions on the overall log in the last three seasons.
"It's the first time since I've been involved (at the Stormers) that we have such depth. We have Joe Pietersen on the bench, as well as experienced players like Gerhard van den Heever and Dewaldt Duvenage providing cover at the backs.
"Yes, it's a big game for us against a quality Bulls outfit at Loftus – it's never going to be easy, but with this team we've covered all our bases and we'll be up for what promises to be a massive derby game."
The teams are:
Vodacom Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Lionel Mapoe, JJ Engelbrecht, Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies (captain), Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Juandrè Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morné Mellett. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Frik Kirsten, Grant Hattingh, Arno Botha, Jano Vermaak, Louis Fouché, Francois Venter.
DHL Stormers: Jaco Taute, Gio Aplon, Jean de Villiers (captain), Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana, Elton Jantjies, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Pat Cilliers, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, Frans Malherbe, Don Armand, Nizaam Carr, Dewaldt Duvenage, Gerhard van den Heever, Joe Pietersen.
Kickoff SA Time: 19:10
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: Johan Greeff (South Africa)