The unbeaten Western Stormers have bulked up their forward pack for what is shaping as a physical South African Super 15 derby against triple winners Northern Bulls in Cape Town tomorrow.
The Stormers remain the only unbeaten team after five rounds of the southern hemisphere provincial championship, but the Bulls, who crushed defending champions Queensland Reds 61-8 last week, are looming as their biggest test.
In other action, All Blacks ace Dan Carter will get his first start of the campaign for the Canterbury Crusaders against the Golden Lions in Johannesburg, after recovering from the groin injury he suffered at last year’s World Cup.
New Zealand conference leaders Waikato Chiefs take on the NSW Waratahs in Hamilton, while Jake White’s much-improved ACT Brumbies face South Africa’s Coastal Sharks in Canberra.
Stormers head coach Allister Coetzee has brought in lock Rynhardt Elstadt at blindside flanker and will use loose forward Nick Koster as an impact player off the bench against the powerful Bulls pack.
“We have gone for Elstadt because we feel the change will be important for this match. It’s horses for courses,” Coetzee said. “We know we have to be prepared for a physical onslaught, and we saw what happened to the Reds’ championship pack last week — the Bulls demolished them.”
Coetzee has also recalled hooker Deon Fourie, at the expense of Scarra Ntubeni, and fly-half Burton Francis, who replaces Gary van Aswegen.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has named an unchanged run-on team and expected a stiffer contest from the Western Cape outfit this weekend.
“The Stormers are an established outfit with a lot of experience and it will take a massive effort from us to beat them at home,” he said.
The Bulls, winners in 2007, 2009 and 2010, have lost the backbone of their championship team and about 640 Super caps of experience with the departures of Springboks Gurthro Steenkamp, Gary Botha, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez, along with veteran Gerhard van den Heever.
Elsewhere, goal-kicking scrum-half Brendan McKibbin has kept star South African import Sarel Pretorius on the bench for the Waratahs match with the Chiefs tomorrow.
The Waratahs edged out the Sharks 34-30 last week, but coach Michael Foley knows his team face a big test in New Zealand.
“We know the Chiefs will be a big game for us. They’ve always been a side able to spread the ball, they’ve certainly got pace out wide and, in Sonny Bill Williams, they have another dimension in attack,” Foley said.
For the Brumbies’ match against the Sharks, Matt Toomua has been named at flyhalf with Christian Lealiifano shifted to inside center.
Dan Palmer’s absence through illness gives Irish import Ruaidhri Murphy his first start at loose-head prop, with Wallaby Ben Alexander taking over at tight-head.
Coach Ewen McKenzie has made five changes to the Queensland Reds’ run-on side for Saturday’s match with the Western Force in Perth, with outside center Joel Rapana named for his debut.
Radike Samo was the biggest casualty from last week’s mauling by the Bulls, with the Wallabies flanker replaced by Eddie Quirk on the bench.
The Melbourne Rebels have been boosted for their trip to play the Otago Highlanders in Invercargill with the return from injury of Wallaby backs Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor.