THE different degrees of pressure on the Bulls and Stormers ahead of the Super Rugby play-off stages was a decisive factor in their team selection for the weekend's matches, with Bulls coach Frans Ludeke recalling his big guns while Allister Coetzee rests two of his Stormers stars.

The Bulls need to win all three of their remaining Super Rugby pool matches to ensure they finish in the top six for a play-off spot. This led to Ludeke loading his team with Springboks to take on the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

In a star-studded starting line-up, Bok locks Juandré Kruger and Flip van der Merwe will reunite in the engine room, while No8 Pierre Spies and flanks Jacques Potgieter and Dewald Potgieter will join forces in a hard-running loose trio.

At halfback, Ludeke backed Bok flyhalf Morné Steyn and scrumhalf Francois Hougaard to dictate play despite both players being criticised heavily for their form with the Boks. Star centre Wynand Olivier will earn his 100th cap in a midfield pairing with JJ Engelbrecht.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske, meanwhile, made four changes to his team which features a new-look front row, with loosehead prop Trevor Nyakane replacing injured Bok Coenie Oosthuizen and Marcel van der Merwe coming in at tighthead for WP Nel.

Flank Pieter "Lappies" Labuschagne fills the void left by the injured Philip van der Walt in the loose trio, while a backline reshuffle resulted in wing Willie le Roux being moved to fullback and Philip Snyman starting on the right wing.

In the Stormers camp, meanwhile, the team's five-point cushion over the Bulls and the fact that they will be facing the embattled Lions at Newlands encouraged Coetzee to hand wing Bryan Habana a well deserved break off the bench. Bok lock Eben Etzebeth was excluded from the team due to a stiff ankle.

Etzebeth's exclusion, however, was eased by the return of another Bok lock, Andries Bekker, who recovered from the lower back injury that kept him on the sidelines for the past month.

Bok skipper Jean de Villiers and versatile back Gio Aplon reclaimed their places in the starting team, as did fullback Joe Pietersen, who was called up to the Bok team last week as fullback cover.

With Bok flank Schalk Burger and talented No8s Duane Vermeulen and Nick Koster battling to recover from knee injuries, Coetzee was forced to name a new-look loose trio. Flank Siya Kolisi switches to No8 while flanks Don Armand and debutante Tyrone Holmes will pack down on the sides of the scrum.

Commenting on the decision to rest Habana, Coetzee said: "We looked at the Bok players on an individual basis. This is a crucial game for us, so we wanted to select the best possible team. But I was particularly concerned about Bryan's workload because he has played every game this season."

While Coetzee was openly disappointed about Burger, Vermeulen and Koster still being injured, he has faith in Armand and Holmes standing their ground against the Lions.

BULLS SQUAD

Zane Kirchner; Akona Ndungane, Wynand Olivier, JJ Engelbrecht, Bjorn Basson; Mornè Steyn, Francois Hougaard; Pierre Spies (capt), Jacques Potgieter, Dewald Potgieter; Juandrè Kruger, Flip van der Merwe; Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Frik Kirsten, Wilhelm Steenkamp, CJ Stander, Jano Vermaak, Louis Fouché, Francois Venter.

STORMERS

Joe Pietersen; Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (capt), Gerhard van den Heever; Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage; Siya Kolisi, Don Armand, Tyrone Holmes; Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp; Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Deon Carstens. Replacements: Tiaan Liebenberg, Brok Harris, Quinn Roux, Jebb Sinclair, Louis Schreuder, Burton Francis, Bryan Habana.

CHEETAHS

Willie le Roux; Philip Snyman, Andries Strauss, Robert Ebersohn, Rocco Jansen; Riaan Smit, Piet van Zyl; Ashley Johnson, Pieter Labuschagne, Heinrich Brüssow; Izak van der Westhuizen, Andries Ferreira; Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss (capt), Trevor Nyakane. Replacements: Hercu Liebenberg, WP Nel, George Earle, Justin Downey, Tewis de Bruyn, Sias Ebersohn, Nico Scheepers.

isaacsz@bdfm.co.za