Preview: Waratahs v Bulls

Date published: May 13 2016

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The Waratahs will be determined to make it four successive triumphs in Super Rugby when they play host to the Bulls in Sydney on Saturday.

It's been some turnaround from Daryl Gibson's charges as they are now knocking on the Australian Group door, with Friday's Rebels versus Brumbies match sure to be keenly watched. As it stands they're level on points with the latter and two points above the Melbourne outfit.

Things are also looking bright in Pretoria as despite a recent defeat, they are very much in the reckoning for a play-off spot, with the Stormers their only rival in Africa 1. With the Capetonians playing the Sunwolves this round, the Bulls must win to avoid losing ground.

It is important however to hold back on the praise for the Bulls and indeed the Stormers and Cheetahs, with that trio not facing any New Zealand franchises in the regular-season. How it reflects a level playing field come July remains a mystery that will be talked to death.

The Bulls do though boast the best tackling success rate in the competition (88 percent) and hooker Adriaan Strauss has the best success rate (95 percent) at the line-out, despite mixing his options. Proof therefore that doing the basics well is paying off for this outfit.

That will be the pre-match message from head coach Nollis Marais as bringing down the Waratahs forward runners, such as Wycliff Palu and Will Skelton, at source will help limit the likes of Bernard Foley and Israel Folau from causing damage wider out. If they can manage it then there is no reason why this hard-working side cannot get back to winning ways, not just this season, but against this week's hosts.

The last time the teams met: It was in 2014 when the 'Tahs ended a dire run of eight straight losses to the Bulls with a 19-12 win. Israel Folau crossed for the only try, coming in the first minute, before Bernard Foley, Jacques-Louis Potgieter and Handré Pollard traded kicks.

Players to watch: He is learning all the time at outside centre and if Israel Folau keeps improving then it is going to be difficult for Michael Cheika to move him back to number 15 in June. Folau has said he is happy to play wherever but with so few options at the back in gold, he might have to return to his previous position. He will, however, return with a few more strings to his bow after recent showings.

For the Bulls we have enjoyed watching full-back SP Marais in recent games. His cultured left boot and classy style has definitely added something to the Pretoria side's attacking options. Also monitor fly-half Tian Schoeman, who is given an opportunity to make a statement.

Team news: The Waratahs have been boosted by being able to name the same XV as last week. They will be eager to continue their impressive form following their 21-6 defeat over the Cheetahs. Bernard Foley (60) will become the Waratahs' highest-ever Super Rugby-capped fly-half, surpassing previous record holder Daniel Halangahu. Tatafu Polota-Nau will notch the second highest amount of games for NSW as he hits 137.

The Bulls have added Jason Jenkins and Jamba Ulengo to their XV. Jenkins pulled out of the first game of the tour against the Force due to an injury, but is fit again and will combine with RG Snyman at lock. He replaces Marvin Orie, who moves to the bench. Ulengo, who returned home from Perth before the Force game, has since returned and starts in place of the injured Travis Ismaiel on the wing. Jannes Kirsten is also back at flank in place of Arno Botha while Rudy Paige and Tian Schoeman come in for half-back pair Piet van Zyl and Francois Brummer. In a similar alteration, the final change sees Lizo Gqoboka start at loosehead prop and Trevor Nyakane will this week come off the bench.

Form: The Waratahs are enjoying a three-match winning streak at the moment as a loss to the Brumbies sparked wins over the Force, Stormers and Cheetahs. That has given them hope of topping the Australian Group. Because of the men from Canberra's poor form, the 'Tahs are level with them at the summit with a game in hand, which is staggering to think after such a sluggish start that saw them lose four out of six.

Last week's loss at the Brumbies was the Bulls' first defeat since Round One. Since that negative at the Stormers they've won six and drew one game before going down in Canberra. They will be eager to bounce back this weekend before home matches against the Stormers and Lions.

Prediction: An intriguing contest between two sides that have enjoyed a decent run of recent form. A home win here. Waratahs by 5.

Previous results:

2014: Waratahs won 19-12 in Sydney
2013: Bulls won 30-19 Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 27-24 in Sydney
2011: Bulls won 23-17 in Pretoria
2010: Bulls won 48-38 in Pretoria
2009: Bulls won 20-6 in Sydney
2008: Bulls won 16-13 in Pretoria
2007: Bulls won 32-19 in Sydney

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Will Skelton, 4 David Dennis, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Ned Hanigan/Jack Dempsey, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Matt Carraro

Bulls: 15 SP Marais, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Dries Swanepoel

Date: Saturday, May 14
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:45 local (09:45 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, James Leckie
TMO: George Ayoub

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