The Bulls will want to get their first win of the season when they face the Sunwolves in Pretoria on Friday.
The home side currently sit at the third on the points table, tied with the Sunwolves as both teams have collected one losing bonus point so far in the competition, which means the side who claims victory this weekend will solidify third place as they chase the Cheetahs and the Stormers in the Africa 1 Conference.
The Bulls will go into this game knowing they have the historical advantage having won each of the two encounters between these teams. They were however two very different games, after grinding to a 30-27 win in Round 5 last season in Singapore before cruising to a commanding 50-3 victory in Round 16.
They will be encouraged by the fact that this is the Bulls’ first home fixture since that 50-3 win against the Japanese side, and they have won 10 of their last 13 games at home overall.
The Sunwolves are getting better at travelling, which the Bulls will have to be prepared for, after the Japanese side scored 29 points in Round 17 last season and 31 points last week, which were their last two away fixtures respectively, setting a new club record for most points scored on the road in each game.
The Bulls meanwhile have shown astute attacking intent despite their losses after forcing their opposition to make 133 tackles per game so far this season, the most of any team.
Returning players will give the Bulls a boost with Lood de Jager, Jan Serfontein and Adriaan Strauss back in the side. Their experience should help this ailing Bulls side with Serfontein’s defensive knowledge key to taping over their leaky defence.
Bulls coach Nollis Marais believes the changes to the side should freshen them up.
“The likes of Jan will be keen to get going, while those who is starting for the first time this season will enjoy the extended time on the field,” Marais told the Rekord.
“I believe this will freshen up our effort, which did not deliver the right results for us in the opening two matches. The Sunwolves were unlucky against the Cheetahs and gave the guys in Bloemfontein a bigger fright than we did. We cannot underestimate them and there can be no excuses, but for us to deliver a good performance.”
The last time these teams met: The Bulls smashed the Sunwolves 50-3 in Pretoria in a sheer display of physical dominance. The Pretoria outfit scored three tries to none in the first 30 minutes to set up a valuable points cushion. The game ended with the Bulls scoring seven tries, to secure a bonus point. The Sunwolves could not compete with the Bulls’ physicality as the men in blue’s loose forwards had a field day charging through the Sunwolves defence. The Bulls’ tries came through Lappies Labuschagne, Dries Swanepoel, Jannes Kirsten, Francois Brummer, Adriaan Strauss, and a brace from Travis Ismaiel.
Players to watch: Jan Serfontein’s inclusion is massive for the Bulls. After the centre was injured for most of last season, his presence was sorely missed and now should aid their attacking prospects and definitely their defence. Warrick Gelant replacing Jesse Kriel in the starting line up is an interesting call, but not one without merit as the flyer brings a lethal attacking edge.
After scoring two tries last week Kenki Fukuoka should be on everyone’s radar. The slight, yet agile winger put the Cheetahs’ cover defence under pressure on dozens of occasions and showed electric speed to cross the line. The Bulls should be wary of full-back Shota Emi who scored his side’s early try and displayed experience beyond his years with his quick decision-making.
Team news: The Bulls have completely revamped their side with some old names returning to the team. Springboks Serfontein and De Jager return to the starting side with former captain Adriaan Strauss returning to the bench, with the rambunctious Edgar Marutlulle starting in the number two jersey.
Jamie-Jerry Taulagi and Timothy Lafaele inclusion the centre pairing should add some much-needed physicality to the Sunwolves backline. The New Zealand-born duo are exciting with ball in hand while also have a bit of weight which could put the Bulls defence under pressure. Former Western Force lock Sam Wykes will start this week who should add some experience to this young side.
Form: The Bulls are currently on a poor run of form after losing their first two games of the season. Their first loss came against the Stormers, where the Cape Town side ran the Bulls ragged scoring five tries past them with the final score 37-24. Their next defeat came against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein where they lost 34-28.
The Sunwolves are in a worse position after losing their first game 83-17 to the Hurricanes conceding 13 tries in the process before suffering another home loss to the Kings 37-23. They responded to their Kings loss well though after almost toppling the Cheetahs on Bloemfontein soil after scoring four tries, with the score ending 38-31 to the hosts.
Prediction: The Sunwolves looked good last week but after two losses and a bye expect a massive Bulls backlash on Friday. Bulls by 15.
2016: Bulls won 50-3 in Pretoria
2016: Bulls won 30-27 in Singapore
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Handre Pollard (c), 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jesse Kriel
Sunwolves: 15 Shota Emi, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hayden Cripps, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shumei Matsuhashi, 6 Ed Quirk (c), 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Heiichiro Ito, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka
Date: Friday, March 17
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Mike Vos (South Africa)