It was Thembelani Bholi's hard toil and willingness to do the hard yards that convinced Mitchell he is ready.
There was always going to be something familiar and also something new about the Bulls ahead of their Super Rugby opener against the Hurricanes at Loftus Versfeld tomorrow.
As familiar as the Hurricanes will be with Loftus, they will have to quickly familiarise themselves with seeing Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard at No 10 for the Bulls.
With a few years under his belt at Super Rugby level and after some career-threatening injuries, Pollard is back in his familiar role.
“He is looking very healthy. Health is a critical starting point in order to become robust,” coach John Mitchell said of Pollard.
“He’s certainly done something about how he fuels his body, he’s lean and is on the pitch every day working on his game. He is becoming resilient as well.
“We are not going to get 18 games out of the guy, but if we’ve got him for the majority of the games, it augurs well. It is not about showing the public because he will do that naturally.
“It is about him proving it to himself,” Mitchell added.
But it will be in the new, in the form of raw but hugely talented flank Thembelani Bholi, that the Bulls will hope to surprise the Hurricanes, even though the Eastern Cape-born loose-forward has already played Super Rugby for the Southern Kings.
Bholi (pictured) was a surprise inclusion in the Bulls’ starting line-up after failing to make the initial squad last month, but it was his hard toil and willingness to do the hard yards that convinced Mitchell he is ready.
“He is enjoyed by his peers, he is very quiet in the way he goes about things, and he eliminated some of the errors in the trial games. When he first started pre-season, naturally like guys who come to a big club, it can be nerve-racking and he wasn’t aligned to how we do things, so it took him a while.
But he has really demonstrated excellent work both on and off the field,” the coach said.
In a Bulls team that still looks familiar to the ones that failed to impress in the last two seasons, there is enough newness to anticipate a better Bulls side with better results this season, especially against the New Zealand teams.
“Ultimately we’ve gone for the best mix based on the way we’ve prepared and the athletes have performed during the trial phase,” said Mitchell.
“It (tomorrow’s 5.15pm match) will be the first performance and at the end of the day when we decide to out-work teams, then we’ll be very difficult to stop. So we hope that starts this weekend.”
Bulls (15-1): Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Johnny Kotze, Handre Pollard, Andre Warner, Hanro Liebenberg, Thembelani Bholi, Roelof Smit, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Frans van Wyk, Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman. Bench: Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka, Conraad van Vuuren, Nic de Jager, Marco van Staden, Embrose Papier, Marnitz Boshoff, Divan Rossouw
Hurricanes (15-1): Matt Proctor, Julian Savea, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Ihaia West, TJ Perenara, Gareth Evans, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields (capt), Sam Lousi, Vaea Fifita, Ben May, Ricky Ricctelli, Toby Smith. Bench: James O’Reilly, Chris Eves, Alex Fidow, Murray Douglas, Blade Thomson, Jamie Booth, Beauden Barrett, Ben Lam