The Bulls will want to save their season when they host the Sunwolves in Pretoria on Saturday.
Both teams are coming off incredibly disappointing losses as the Bulls were thumped 29-11 in Buenos Aires while the Sunwolves were destroyed by the Waratahs 57-12 at home.
As the competition draws to a close, these two teams have very different objectives to carry out. After the Bulls loss last week they need a clean run of wins for the rest of the competition and must hope that the Sharks slip up along the way. If the Bulls can win this game, they have to travel to Bloemfontein and will have to beat the Cheetahs away. The Bulls journey might be a tough one but they can still make the quarter-finals.
The Sunwolves don’t have nearly the same amount of pressure on them as they hope just to beat the Kings in the African group. Both teams sit on nine points as they languish at the bottom. The Sunwolves have to play the Bulls in Pretoria and then travel to Durban to play the Sharks, so the chances are slim they can get another win before the end of the season.
The Bulls injury list seems to be growing longer by the day. Bulls coach Nollis Marais couldn’t have said it better when he told Times Live: "It is injury after injury after injury."
They have lost valuable experience in losing a handful of Springboks in Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein and Trevor Nyakane and just this week they lost Lizo Gqoboka and Roelef Smit. So their stock of players are drying up fast.
Marais said he was under a ton of pressure going into the game.
"I’ve got a huge amount of pressure now at the moment. For us I think the pressure is even more," said Marais.
"The expectation was always to reach the play-offs. I’m very disappointed. The pressure is definitely on for us,"
"The worst thing you can do now is not play well on Saturday and then the Cheetahs beat the Sharks, and that might not be a good day for you."
Marais’s men do get the timely boost of Adriaan Strauss who joins the team after being rested for a week so he could recover the gruelling three-Test series with the Springboks. The leadership that Strauss adds should help lift the Pretoria outfit.
The last time the teams met: In their last game the Bulls just beat the Sunwolves 30-27 in Singapore. The Sunwolves scored the first try as the Bulls couldn’t handle a kick by Riaan Viljoen down field and Sunwolves flanker Andrew Durutalo grabbed the loose ball and scores for his side. Adriaan Strauss was the first to score a five pointer for his team as the Bulls maul remained a strategic victory for the hosts. Roelof Smit then scored for the Bulls but the Sunwolves weren’t done yet as flyhalf Tusi Pisi made a fantastic break down field before off-loading to speedster Akihito Yamada who finshed the try off. Bulls winger Jamba Ulengo made the difference in the end with try that had to go to the TMO before being confirmed. Sunwolves scrumhalf Yuki Yatomi scored after the final hooter but it wasn’t enough to save his side from a home defeat.
Players to watch: Lappies Labuschagne has a reputation for being a work horse and last week he was one of the only players to show his worth. The flanker seemed to be everywhere against the Jaguares when looking at his statistics. The athletic loose forward beat two defenders and made a solid eight tackles. Labuschagne is definitely a man to watch. Adriaan Strauss is also someone to look out for. The Bulls skipper was rested last week and his leadership was sorely missed. He will do everything he can to try and improve his team’s chances of making the quarter-finals. Expect a big game from Strauss.
Meanwhile for the Sunwolves, Liaki Moli made his presence felt against the Waratahs last weekend. Moli, another loose-forward who has a Herculean work rate, made 13 tackles last weekend and has produced 107 throughout the competition. He is quick for a big man so the Bulls will have to try contain the big number six. South African full-back Riaan Viljoen remains a threat from the backfield, the former Cheetahs players has always been an astute attacker and even with their few opportunities last weekend Viljoen still had a great day at the office. He ran 55 meters for his team while making two clean breaks and beating two defenders. He also has a rocket launcher of a boot on him and can send teams right back into their own halves.
Team news: Marais has made a few changes to the forward pack with captain Adriaan Strauss replacing Bandise Maku at hooker. Prop Pierre Schoeman will start at loosehead after Lizo Gqoboka suffered a groin injury. While Werner Kruger will play his last game at Loftus as starts he at tighthead ahead of Marcel van der Merwe. Lappies Labuschagne and Jannes Kirsten will start at each side of the scrum while Renaldo Bothma starts at number eight. On the bench Nqoba Mxoli provides cover at prop and could get his Super Rugby cap if he is called upon. In the backline, Jesse Kriel switched from outside-centre to full-back with Burger Odendaal donning the 13 jersey while Dries Swanepoel will play inside him. Piet van Zyl starts at scrum-half.
The Sunwolves coaching team has rotated their side slightly. Yuki Yatomi starts ahead of Kaito Shigeno at nine. In the forwards, Hitoshi Ono will start at lock ahead of Fa’atiga Lemalu, while Keita Inagaki replaces Masataka Mikami at loose-head prop. Harumichi Tatekawa has been named as captain once again.
Form: The Bulls are currently having a terrible run of form. Besides a lonely win against the Stormers at home, in their last five games they have lost four. In all fairness they had tough games on tour against the Brumbies and Waratahs but they will be smarting after a 29-11 loss to the Jaguares, a game they probably should have won. Just before the international break they were also given 50 points at home when the Lions ran the Bulls ragged 56-20.
The Sunwolves record is even worse. They have lost four of their last five games but did record a draw against the Stormers which they can have some find pride in. Their two most recent games were hammerings as they lost 66-5 against the Brumbies and most recently 57-12 against the Waratahs.
Prediction: The Bulls should bulldoze past the Sunwolves as they try and save their season. Bulls by 15.
2015: Bulls won 30-27 in Singapore
Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Jason Jenkins, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Nqoba Mxoli, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 SP Marais
Sunwolves: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Hajime Yamashita, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa (c),11 Yasutaka Sasakura,10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yuki Yatomi, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Taiyo Ando, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Naohiro Kotaki, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Futoshi Mori, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Faatiga Lemalu, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Mifiposeti Paea, 23 Shokei Kin
Date: Saturday, July 9
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, AJ Jacobs
TMO: Willie Vos