Preview: Hurricanes v Bulls

Date published: April 4 2014

Fresh off a victory against the Crusaders, the Hurricanes will fancy their chances of recording their first win over the Bulls since 2008.

Fresh off a dramatic victory against the Crusaders, the Hurricanes will be fancying their chances of recording their first triumph over the Bulls since 2008 when the sides meet in Napier.

It will be the Canes' final match before their first bye of the competition and with only two victories to show from their first six outings, it would be fair to say that success this Saturday would go a long way in keeping their play-off ambitions alive.

Having both Victor Vito and Brad Shields back in the side from knee injuries should bolster their chances.

Equally the return of Cory Jane at the wing can be seen as a blessing seeing as centre Tim Bateman has to sit this one out after picking up a shoulder injury.

In contrast the Bulls made only a minor tweak to their side that was held to a draw by the defending champion Chiefs in Pretoria last week.

In their change skipper Flip van der Merwe returns from injury and will join Paul Willemse in the second row while veteran lock Victor Matfield reverts back to the coach's box and will only resume his on-field duties once his team returns to South Africa.

Matfield played a leading role in the team's change of fortunes, but was last week found to be a step or two off the required pace while his one-on-one defence should be of great concern to the national selectors, who would love to see him wear the number five jersey for the Springboks later this year.

One of the most significant differences between the two sides is the accuracy they have shown in attack.

The Hurricanes, spearheaded by the vastly experienced Conrad Smith, have been exceptional in showing continuity with ball in hand and this has resulted in the team being one of the most dangerous when presented with turnover possession.

Defensively there will always be room from improvement, but the Canes are steadily proving that attack is one of the best methods to defend and would have noticed that one of the main inefficiencies in the Bulls set-up is the mindset of their outside backs.

While fielding a balanced pack of bulky forwards, the Bulls have struggled to penetrate defences out wide, while those same outside backs have hardly provided the requisite defensive cover – especially when forced into a counter attacking situation.

Matfield's return to the coaching staff can therefore be seen as an indication of just how important an improved plan of attack has become for the men from Pretoria.

What could end up being somewhat of a blessing in disguise for the visitors is the fact that the match is being played at Napier's McLean Park as opposed to windy Wellington where goal-kicking and line-out throws can become a nightmare.

Both these sides would like to show some improvement in their discipline at the tackle area and that is where the Hurricanes will be counting on Vito to ensure they have a greater impact on that facet of play.

At set phase the Bulls have had an up-and-down season with their inefficiencies at tighthead often allowing sides to dominate at scrum time.

The Hurricanes have, to some extent, focussed more on speeding up the game with their tight five often displaying superb ball handling and distribution skills.

They do, however, need no reminder that victory against the Bulls starts with victory at the collision area while the odd psychological blow at scrum-time would do their cause a world of good.

It will therefore be interesting to see whether Jeff Toomaga-Allen or John Schwalger will anchor their scrum.

Toomaga-Allen took a bad knock to his head last week and a final call on his availability will be made prior to kick-off.

Prediction: Momentum the Hurricanes gained from a win over the Crusaders should make it too difficult for the Bulls to record an unlikely victory. It should be a close one, with the home side winning by six.

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen/John Schwalger, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger/Reggie Goodes, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Brad Shields, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Hadleigh Parkes, 23 Marty Banks

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Flip van der Merwe (captain), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Morné Mellett, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Jacques du Plessis, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers

Date: Saturday, April 5
Venue: McLean Park, Napier
Kick-off: 19.35 local (08:35 SAST, 06.35 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)

By Michael Mentz