Preview: Lions v Bulls

Date published: May 30 2014

The combination of determination and desperation in the Lions setup could prompt the Bulls to revert to a defensive approach on Saturday.

The combination of determination and desperation in the Lions setup could prompt the Bulls to revert to a defensive approach when the two sides meet in Johannesburg on Saturday.

While securing a bonus-point victory will give the Bulls a better chance of reaching the play-offs, a loss could see them exit the title race.

This could make for an intriguing showdown as the Lions should throw everything but the kitchen sink at their Jukskei rivals.

The Lions should not move away from their expansive approach to proceedings but, although it has its aesthetic appeal to the neutral spectator, the modern game is based on efficacy on defence and on that front Johan Ackermann's men have not done themselves any favours in recent weeks.

By contrast, the Bulls base their game on solidity in defence that is complimented by a tactical approach which places territory at a premium.

These differences in style of play becomes even more astounding when considering that only a few suburbs separating the two Gauteng-based sides.

What should be real cause for concern in the Lions den is the improved accuracy the Bulls have shown on attack.

The Bulls rarely fail to come away with points when they visit the opposition 22 and, like the Lions, have a goal kicker that can punish ill-discipline from more than 50 metres out.

The pride based motivation the Lions will take into the contest is unlikely to be enough to counter a Bulls outfit that came within inches of playing the perfect game against the Brumbies last week and it is in the improvement the Bulls have showcased throughout their campaign that the real difference between these sides is revealed.

That level of excellence Frans Ludeke's men have shown in recent weeks should help them to their 11th consecutive Super Rugby victory over the Lions, who stand to lose for the eighth consecutive time this season.

Ludeke, a former Lions player turned coach, has taken note of the solidity the Lions have shown at set-phase, but would also have devised a plan to counter that strength.

“We cannot afford to let them dominate the pace of the match or the style of play,” Ludeke said ahead of the contest.

Whether his side can prevent the Lions from dictating the pace without stalwart Victor Matfield, who is being rested for this contest, should be the real tester.

The Bulls have tend to look a far more focused whenever the evergreen Matfield was on the park and need to show that they can produce the goods without their talisman.

One of the most important points the Lions need to prove in this contest is that Ellis Park is more than a place where players like Marnitz Boshoff, Cortnall Skoskan and the likes are forced to go when they don't cut it at Loftus.

Form: The Lions have just returned from a tough tour where the depth of their squad was pushed to the limit. They have lost their last seven games. The Bulls have steadily improved as the season progressed and are in the fortuitous position to be able to rotate their players. The Bulls have won their last three games.

Previous results:
2014: Bulls won 25-17 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 37-20 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 32-18 n Johannesburg
2011: Bulls won 30-23 in Pretoria

Prediction: The Bulls should win, but it may not be as comfortable as they would like. Bulls by 8.

The teams:

Lions: 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Chrysander Botha, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Rudi Mathee, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Deon van Rensburg

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 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe (captain), 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Morné Mellett, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Wimpie van der Walt, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Louis Fouché, 23 William-Small Smith

Date:Saturday, May 31
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off:17:05 (15.05 GMT)
Referee:Craig Joubert (South Africa)

By Michael Mentz