Preview: Chiefs v Bulls

Date published: May 21 2015

The Bulls will hope to secure top spot in the South African Conference when they face the Chiefs on Friday.

Going into the Round 15 clash with only a single point separating them from the Stormers, Frans Ludeke's side will be desperate to both bounce back from last weekend's shock loss to the Blues and to also keep their automatic playoff spot.

It has been a mixed campaign for the three-time champions with their record standing at seven wins from 12 matches, but with the Stormers going through a rough patch while the Lions and Sharks have had their own issues, a semi-final spot is just a few games away.

To achieve that a number of players are going to play a huge role, but one of them in star signing Adriaan Strauss sits out on Friday in accordance with the agreement with SARU to rest key Springboks.

This week's difficult fixture in Rotorua will be another test for rising young stars like Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel. 

Pollard has the ability to win these matches for his side single-handedly, despite only making his breakthrough to senior rugby last year.

With Aaron Cruden absent through injury, Pollard will come up against an even younger opponent in Damian McKenzie.

Turning to the dynamic McKenzie isn't a difficult choice for the Chiefs as he's already produced a number of game-breaking moments this year, but the Bulls defence will undoubtedly target him.

There is no Sonny Bill Williams for the second week running as he joins a worrying list of players in the treatment room including James Lowe, Matt Symons, Brodie Retallick and Michael Allardice.

Losing such a large chunk of their pack will test the Chiefs against a Bulls group who relish trucking the ball up and attacking the breakdown.

Victory though is a necessity for the Chiefs if they are to keep up their chase for a play-off spot with so many teams on their shoulder.

The last time these teams met: A high-scoring draw between these two at Loftus ended 34-34, with the Chiefs outscoring their hosts five tries to three as they made a late comeback. But five penalties from Jacques-Louis Potgieter kept his side in front for most of the game.

Players to watch: Bound for Worcester next season, Bryce Heem will be looking to bow out in style for the Chiefs ahead of his move to Europe. Not short of speed, as you'd expect from a Sevens specialist, Heem is a big threat out wide who will test the Bulls defence.

For the Bulls a rare start for Callie Visagie puts him under the spotlight as Strauss takes a deserved rest. The Bulls need their set-piece to be dominant in Rotorua and Visagie will have a huge role to play while also reminding his coaches of why he should start every week.

Team news: Chiefs boss Dave Rennie has made several changes to his starting XV. Mitchell Graham starts at loosehead prop while in the second row Michael Fitzgerald has been bracketed with Ross Filipo. The confirmed starting lock will pack down alongside Johan Bardoul. The only other change to the run-on side sees Augustine Pulu assume the starting role at scrum-half.

Bulls head coach Frans Ludeke has handed hooker Visagie his first start of the season. Ludeke also made two changes in his loose trio, with Jacques du Plessis and Deon Stegmann starting after playing off the bench against the Blues.

Form: After four wins on the bounce the Chiefs have lost their last two clashes against the Rebels and Hurricanes, but they do boast a strong 83 percent winning record at home this year. Their defence has been miserly, only letting in 17 tries all year, while they have the exact same number of try bonus points (three) and losing bonus points (four) as the Bulls.

After back-to-back losses at the start of the year the Bulls kicked their campaign into life with four straight wins, but they have now lost two of their last three matches. Points however have not been an issue, with no other South African side scoring over 300 so far in 2015. 

Prediction: We're backing the Chiefs to get back to winning ways in a real scrap between the two packs of forwards. Chiefs by 5!

Previous results:

2014: 34-34 draw in Pretoria
2012: Chiefs won 28-22 in Hamilton
2011: Bulls won 43-27 in Pretoria
2010: Bulls won 33-19 in Hamilton

The teams: 

Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Bryce Heem, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Johan Bardoul, 4 Michael Fitzgerald/Ross Filipo, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Pauliasi Manu, 19 Brian Alainu’uese, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Tim Nanai-Williams

Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Lappies Labuschagne, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Travis Ismaiel

Date: Friday, May 22
Venue: Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
Kick-off: 19:35 local (17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson, Aki Aso
TMO: Glenn Newman