Preview: Bulls v Cheetahs

Date published: April 21 2017

The Bulls will hope to build on their recent win over the Jaguares when they play host to the Cheetahs in an Africa 1 battle in Pretoria.

With the Stormers losing to the Lions, the Bulls at least managed to close a sizeable gap down to 16 points last weekend but there’s still a whole lot of work to be done if they are to catch their rivals, meaning that victory over the Bloemfontein outfit on Saturday is imperative.

The Cheetahs won the reverse fixture in Round 2 but have never won back-to-back games against the Loftus side. Furthermore, the Bulls have won seven of their last eight at home to the Cheetahs, although five of those seven wins came by single figure margins, so the hosts are favourites with the bookmakers to claim their third victory of the year. They will hope that is after a Stormers loss at the Crusaders.

What will concern Cheetahs fans is that they’ve lost their last nine away matches, including their last five away to South African rivals. This does not inspire confidence of victory at Loftus but that is not to say they don’t have the quality to pull off a victory on their travels.

The Bulls are minus the rested Jan Serfontein and injured Handré Pollard which has meant a reshuffle. The Cheetahs meanwhile boast one of the most dangerous back-rows in the competition with ball in hand, with Uzair Cassiem’s return via the bench also timely this week.

In truth this is an ideal time for the Cheetahs to end their dismal form on the road with the Bulls missing those two Bok backs, but to prevail they must plug the holes in their defence that have hurt them so often this term. Do that and they stand a chance of cracking Loftus.

The last time these teams met: The Cheetahs won 34-28 in Round 2 this year thanks to tries from Clinton Swart, Oupa Mohoje (2) and Justin Basson. All of those came in the first-half as the Bulls added to Jason Jenkins’ try with Piet van Zyl and Jambo Ulengo’s crossings, leaving with at least a losing bonus-point to their name. Cheetahs fly-half Fred Zeilinga kicked 14 points in a 100 percent record.

Players to watch: It was pleasing last week to see Jesse Kriel making the line busts he became synonymous for in his early career. Playing at full-back, he impressed against the Jaguares, but this Saturday he moves to centre where he links up with Burger Odendaal. The Springbok faces a reliable player for the Cheetahs, Francois Venter, in what should be a pivotal battle in decided who claims the victory.

For the Cheetahs look out for Clayton Blommetjies, with the full-back a key player for several reasons. His tactical kicking has been spot on this year as more often than not he rolls the dice and makes good ground. He is also an elusive runner who could cause the Bulls issues.

Team news: Jacobie Adriaanse will earn a 30th cap, but starts at tighthead prop for the Bulls for the first time on Saturday. The 32-year-old came off the bench four times this year for the Pretoria side, but will earn a first start in place of Trevor Nyakane, who is rested, in one of two changes to the Bulls pack. In the other, Jason Jenkins will start at lock, trading places with RG Snyman from last weekend. Jan Serfontein is being rested as per Saru agreement, resulting in Jesse Kriel moving into the 13 jersey. Warrick Gelant is at full-back. An ankle injury to Handré Pollard on Thursday meant another reshuffle for head coach Nollis Marais as Tian Schoeman comes in to start at 10.

Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith has made two changes to his starting side as Charles Marais comes in at loosehead in place of the benched Ox Nche. In the backs, a hamstring injury rules out Sergeal Petersen so William Small-Smith comes onto the right wing for the away match. There’s a boost on the bench for head coach Smith as impressive flank Uzair Cassiem makes a comeback from a knee injury to don jersey 21.

Form: The Bulls ended a run of three straight losses with a victory over the Jaguares last week as they ran out 26-13 winners. That was only their second triumph of the year though as they remain off the pace in Africa 1, 16 points to be precise as the Stormers lead the way.

The Cheetahs are a point behind the Bulls as they have also lost five of their seven games, falling to the Chiefs at home last week. That 41-27 defeat was their fourth in a row, with their last win having come on March 11. On average they have been leaking five tries a game.

Prediction: The Cheetahs definitely could run their hosts close at Loftus but even without a key duo we see the Bulls edging this by 5.

Previous results:

2017: Cheetahs won 34-28 in Bloemfontein
2016: Bulls won 43-17 in Bloemfontein
2016: Bulls won 23-18 in Pretoria
2015: Cheetahs won 42-29 in Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 39-20 in Bloemfontein
2014: Bulls won 26-21 in Pretoria
2014: Cheetahs won 15-9 in Bloemfontein
2013: Bulls won 30-25 in Bloemfontein

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Marnus Schoeman/Jacques Potgieter, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Franco Naude

Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Uzair Cassiem, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga

Date: Saturday, April 22
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)