Preview: Bulls v Cheetahs

Date published: June 12 2015

Two sides in dismal form clash at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday as the Bulls host the Cheetahs, with both in desperate need of a win.

Not since May 2 have this duo picked up four points which means both are now into their final week of the season, and one that held much hope for the Bulls after the front-row signings of Adriaan Strauss and Trevor Nyakane to go with Lappies Labuschagne heading into the 2015 campaign.

Alas things have not transpired how Frans Ludeke would have hoped as the Handré Pollard and Jan Serfontein combination only fired sporadically, with just a few positives such as full-back Jesse Kriel's performances with ball in hand keeping the Loftus Versfeld faithful moderately happy.

Fortunately their fans have been treated to solid home form of late as they enter this game on the back of five straight victories in Pretoria. Another boost is the fact the Cheetahs have lost five of their last six on the road while Loftus has become a fortress against the Free State.

Not good for the Cheetahs then, who are in terrible form after wins in Rounds One and Two, with their defence against the Waratahs last weekend raising serious questions as they allowed that lethal backline far too much space to counter. New coach Franco Smith has plenty of work to do.

One area that raises concern is the fact they have enjoyed the least amount of time per game with ball in hand, a worrying average of thirteen minutes. Are they too impatient in possession? Maybe, but it's their 502 points conceded that will be Smith's first point of focus in the winter.

The Bulls will hope to add to that sizeable tally on home soil and should have too much power up front for the Cheetahs, thus finishing a campaign they would like to forget on a positive note. Unfortunately for them, it will be below both the Stormers and Lions.

The last time these teams met: It was the Handré Pollard show in Bloemfontein as his 29-point haul which included a try, three conversions, five penalties and a drop-goal saw off the Cheetahs in a 39-20 win. Pollard scored the game's first try before Bjorn Basson's effort made it 23-6 at the break. Raymond Rhule and Boom Prinsloo responded to make it a six-point game but then Jan Serfontein's try and Pollard's boot did the rest.

Players to watch: If the Bulls are to tick, fly-half Jacques Louis-Potgieter's game management needs to be firing on all cylinders. When this former Cheetah is in top form, he is a threat and with a strong forward pack that includes several players looking to impress Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, the spine of the Bulls must be strong. Jesse Kriel will hope for ample metres too, just like Israel Folau had last week in Bloemfontein.

In his Cheetahs swansong, Willie le Roux will be eager to say goodbye in style as he faces off with Kriel and company in Pretoria. His arrival onto the field last week was a catalyst for the Cheetahs and if he can get Francois Venter and his speedsters moving, they will be confident.

Team news: Pollard, Victor Matfield and Jan Serfontein are all given a weekend off due to the SARU agreement, while Deon Stegmann, Dean Greyling and Labuschagne are also absent this week. Grant Hattingh comes into the second-row, Arno Botha starts in the back-row, while further forward Morné Mallett is at loosehead and Adriaan Strauss returns at hooker. Jacques-Louis Potgieter continues in the number ten shirt.

The Cheetahs have named full-back Willie le Roux in their side as he is promoted to the XV in Pretoria as Clayton Blommetjies moves to the right wing in place of Cornal Hendricks, who drops out of the matchday 23. Up front, Henco Venter moves up from the bench to replace Tienie Burger on the flank while Springbok back-row Oupa Mohoje is included on the replacements bench as the Cheetahs look to end a disappointing term on a high.

Form: The Bulls are in a rotten run of form at the moment after four straight losses. Of course their season is now all about pride as they sit ten points off the top six. The Bulls will take comfort from the fact they beat the Cheetahs in March, running out 39-20 winners in Bloemfontein.

Speaking of the Cheetahs, they themselves are on a four-game losing run and have won just two of their last thirteen matches in the competition.

Prediction: With the Bulls' impressive recent record at Loftus, it's tough to see the Cheetahs coming away with the points. Bulls to win by 10!

Previous results:

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
2013: Bulls won 26-10 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 40-24 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 51-19 in Bloemfontein

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Arno Botha, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Roelof Smit, 20 Bjorn Basson, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Jurgen Visser, 23 Werner Kruger.

Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Sergeal Petersen, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 BG Uys.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Ewald vd Westhuizen, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Oupa Mohoje, 22 Renier Botha, 23 Coenie van Wyk.

Date: Saturday, June 13
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT, 01:05 AEST, 03:05 NZST)
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Jason Jaftha, Ben Crouse
TMO: Willie Vos