Planet Rugby

Preview: Bulls v Blues

07th March 2014 06:37

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Marty McKenzie Jurgen Visser Super Rugby Blues Bulls

Highveld showdown: The Bulls host the Blues

The Bulls will be desperate to build some momentum when they host a determined Blues side at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Even though they bounced back from consecutive defeats with a win over the Lions last week, the men from Pretoria will be the first to admit that they have yet to hit their straps as their conversion rate when they have built pressure, has left much to desire.

In contrast, a far more confident Blues unit will start their two-week tour of South Africa on the back of an empathic win over the Crusaders where the influence of their most experienced forwards complimented the flair and enterprising play Sir John Kirwan's younger charges bring to the game.

Kirwan would have told his men that the first step towards victory over the Bulls is to dominate up front and this is where All Blacks Kevin Mealamu and Tony Woodcock have a huge role to play.

Mealamu and Woodcock will enjoy their first starts of the season at a venue where winning the collisions represents the best way to win the match.

While struggling to get over the try-line, the Bulls have been one of the most impressive sides at set-phase play where the influence of Victor Matfield is becoming more evident as weeks go by.

Their work at scrum-time, in particular, has impressed as they are conceding less penalties in this facet of play while it appears the team has done away with the negative approach they used to have at defensive scrums.

Whether they will be as successful against an all-All Black front row remains to be seen.

The Bulls will, however, take some comfort in the fact that with the inclusion of fetcher Deon Stegmann, their ability to create turnovers should drastically improve.

Stegmann was the missing link in the team's first three outings and has a huge role to play against Blues skipper Luke Braid who made some of the best loosies in the game look rather ordinary last week.

As for the respective backlines, the Bulls would be wise to keep it among the forwards for sustained periods on end as the strike runners in the Blues backline are known to cause havoc.

When considering their kick-and-charge strategy, the onus will be on fly-half Jacques-Louis Potgieter to execute with precision as a poorly-placed kick will not go unpunished by Frank Halai and company.

Prediction: Having been successful at the Bulls fortress the previous time they were in South Africa, the Blues will fancy their chances of making it two wins from as many visits. But then betting against the Bulls at home is a poser in itself. Bulls to scrape home by three.

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

Blues:15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements:16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Chris Noakes, 23 Pita Ahki

Date: Saturday, March 8
Kick-off: 17:05 local (13.05 GMT)
Venue: Loftus Versfeld
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa) Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
Television match official: Johan Greeff (South Africa)

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