Club co-captain, Marcell Coetzee returns from serving his suspension as the Vodacom Bulls begin their 2023/24 Investec Champions Cup campaign against three-time competition champions, Saracens of England. The two clubs will meet – for the first time – at Loftus Versfeld Stadium tomorrow, 8 December 2023 (19h30 kick-off) in what is touted to be a match for the memories under the African skies.
Coetzee will get a run from the impact squad where he forms part of a five-three split impact squad that also features forwards Simphiwe Matanzima, Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Mornay Smith and Deon Slabbert as well as backs Zak Burger, Jaco van der Walt and Sergeal Petersen who returns to the matchday 23-fold.
The herd remains unchanged up in front with Gerhard Steenekamp (loose-head), Akker van der Merwe (hooker) and tight-head prop Wilco Louw making up the front row. Janko Swanepoel will start at lock alongside former Junior Springbok, Reinhardt Ludwig who will start to his right at 5-lock. The third-row combination of Marco van Staden, Elrigh Louw and Cameron Hanekom remains unchanged from last week’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship round 7 clash. Louw will – once again – lead the herd when they step into the fortress against the English giants.
The impeccable forward pack will lay the foundation for a backline that begins with Embrose Papier (scrumhalf) and Johan Goosen (flyhalf) at halfback, with David Kriel and Stedman Gans behind them at centre. Springbok trio, Canan Moodie (left wing), Kurt-Lee Arendse (right wing) and Willie le Roux (fullback) complete an electric backline.
Director of Rugby, Jake White said it was good to have Coetzee back and added: “We are happy to have Marcell back, but we are also happier to have the same pack of forwards running out for continuity and also sends the right message to the guys after they played so well last weekend. It is nice to have him but there is a lot of positivity in the camp that it is as it was last weekend,”
Speaking on the Saracens test for his herd, White remarked: “It is another test for our guys, but I say this with respect to Maro Itjoe, our guys played against Eben Etzebeth last weekend, and I am looking forward to seeing how well they do with this test this weekend because they did well against Eben last weekend,”
“Saracens have shown over the last couple of years that they have an incredible success rate, playing the style they play but we mustn’t get sucked into anything, we must remain focused on what we do well; especially because we are at home with all the contributing factors like altitude and the heat; and momentum from the way we have been playing. This is something we must not move away from,”
“It is going to be an interesting test match but I am confident that Kurt-Lee, Canan and Willie have played together at the international level and would have played international sides that play similar to their (Saracens) game and they would have done very well anyways, so I am looking forward to whether or not the makeup of our group can make sure that we play the way we want to play.”
White added: “Saracens have an incredible record in the Champions Cup. They are like the Barcelona of rugby and so it will be a wonderful test match,”
“The learnings we have learnt as a group are going to have to be water-tight this weekend because we are going to get asked a lot of different questions and get tested in different areas that we probably haven’t been tested before because of the way Saracens play.”
On the importance of having a good start: “It is always good to start well but the one thing we all know is that the longer you play at altitude the more fatigued you get, especially if you are a touring side; so it would be wonderful to start well and continue playing well but I don’t necessarily reckon that if you start badly therefore all is lost. There is a lot of contributing factors that can play a role in these championship games”.
“I have no doubt Saracens will want to start well too because of the experience they have and because of the personnel they have as well, I am sure they would know they need to start well as well.”
On Saracens’ strong travelling squad: “It is a wonderful honour for us that they bring their best team to play against us, it sends a great message to us as a group; that they take us that seriously that they would bring all their internationals that they have available to come and play at Loftus. Knowing them, it is probably also a learning experience for them. First time playing against the Vodacom Bulls, first time in Tshwane as they develop as a team,”
“It doesn’t get any tougher or bigger than this weekend, to play against a Saracens side that has won this competition. I am really looking forward to measuring ourselves against a team like Saracens with the success they have and the way they play. I have a lot of respect for the way they do things as a club.”
“We have got to play as well as we can, and this will be a wonderful measurement for us to see where we are as a group. There is a lot of history and memories to be made. This is what it is all about, the biggest competition in the world.”
Tickets for the blockbuster start from R 50.00c and the gates will open at 16h30 with an exciting serving of entertainment at the Loftus D-Market for the whole family.
VODACOM BULLS vs SARACENS STARTING XV:
1. Gerhard Steenekamp, 2. Akker van der Merwe, 3. Wilco Louw, 4. Janko Swanepoel, 5. Reinhardt Ludwig, 6. Marco van Staden, 7. Elrigh Louw (c), 8. Cameron Hanekom, 9. Embrose Papier, 10. Johan Goosen, 11. Canan Moodie, 12. David Kriel, 13. Stedman Gans, 14. Kurt-Lee Arendse, 15. Willie le Roux
VODACOM BULLS IMPACT SQUAD:
16. Simphiwe Matanzima, 17. Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 18. Mornay Smith, 19. Deon Slabbert, 20. Marcell Coetzee, 21. Zak Burger, 22. Jaco van der Walt, 23. Sergeal Petersen
Jake White – Director of Rugby, Chris Rossouw – Assistant Coach, Werner Kruger – Assistant Coach, Gary Gold – Assistant Coach, Andries Bekker – Assistant Coach, Jean Tiedt – Assistant Coach, Kennedy Tsimba – Assistant Coach, Phiwe Nomlomo – Assistant Coach, John-William Meyer – Technical Analyst, Dr. Moshe Magethi – Team Doctor, Lance Lemmetjies – Senior Physiotherapist, Darryn Berry – Physiotherapist, Andre Volsteedt – Strength & Conditioning, Yusuf Vahed – Sport Scientist, Elias Bennett – Team Manager, Simon Dyidi – Logistics Manager