Planet Rugby

Preview: Bulls v Rebels

10th July 2014 08:32

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Handre Pollard of the Bulls

Bulls: Unbeaten at home

To say the Rebels face a daunting task against the Bulls in Pretoria on Friday could be the biggest understatement of this year's tournament.

The men from Melbourne are currently the bottom-placed team in the standings and if they want to avoid finishing last on the table, two things must happen during this weekend's last round of matches of the league phase of the competition.

First, they must do what no other team has done in 2014. Beat the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. And if that happens, they must also hope that their closest rivals on the table, the Cheetahs, lose their final match of the season against the Lions on Saturday.

In seven fixtures at their home ground this season, the Bulls were victorious on six occasions with their only blemish, on what would be a perfect home record, being a 34-34 draw they registered against the Chiefs in Round Seven.

So, the Rebels face much more than an uphill battle. They appear to be taking on an impossible mission. And what makes this fixture even more difficult is the fact that the Bulls are determined to deliver a much-improved display after they suffered a humiliating 16-0 defeat to the Stormers in Cape Town last weekend.

That defeat killed off the Bulls' last hopes of reaching the play-offs and they are determined to finish their campaign on a high by maintaining their unbeaten home record.

Despite their fine home form, the Bulls were their own worst enemies when they played away from home as they failed to win a single match from eight fixtures on the road.

Bulls captain Victor Matfield feels they conceded too many turnovers in those matches and said if they can rectify that aspect of their play they will be successful this weekend.

"Even if you don't score, you have to build pressure with the ball in hand, that is something throughout the season we didn't do well," he said.

"We gave away too many turnovers - not only at the breakdowns but knocking the ball on or from a bad pass.

"Every time you get momentum and you make a mistake it is costly. It happened the whole year and hopefully we can get that right going forward."

As if their task wasn't difficult enough already, the Rebels suffered a further setback earlier in the week when they lost the services of their talismanic captain and number eight Scott Higginbotham, who was suspended for one week for repeated yellow cards. They've also lost the services of Tom Kingston for this clash after he sustained a knee injury in the 34-17 loss to the Lions last weekend.

Rebels head coach Tony McGahan knows a similar performance against the Bulls will condemn his side to that spot at the foot of the table.

"We move forward to the Bulls, who have played a pretty attacking style this year, and certainly been strong through the set piece and maul," he told the Rebels' official website.

"They've played with the ball in hand a lot this year, and certainly they did in the first half against the Stormers on the weekend, but they just had a few errors in their game. I think that they have really evolved, and they're obviously keen to finish off with a good result on the weekend."

Experienced Wallaby scrum-half Luke Burgess is among a select few who have faced the Bulls in Pretoria.

He is aware that the Rebels are huge underdogs but is relishing the challenge of facing the Bulls on their own turf.

"It's very important to finish the season off on a positive note," he said.

"It's a new challenge, and that's the great thing about rugby; it's a new challenge and opportunity every week.

"You have to be positive about it and look forward, not back, and it's always a privilege to play at Loftus Versfeld.

"It's one of the toughest challenges in Super Rugby, against some of the most experienced and toughest rugby players in the world, and it's a real honour and delight to play there."

Form: The Bulls went down 16-0 to the Stormers in Cape Town last weekend and before that, they lost 32-21 to the Lions in their last match before the break for the June internationals in Johannesburg on May 31. Their last victory was a 44-23 triumph over the Brumbies in Pretoria, on May 23. The Rebels are in the midst of a disastrous slump in which they lost their last four matches - against the Lions, Reds, Brumbies and Waratahs. Their last victory came in their first match against the Reds, when they held on for a 30-27 victory in Melbourne in Round 14.

Previous results:
2012: Bulls won 41-35 in Melbourne
2011: Bulls won 47-10 in Pretoria

Prediction: The Rebels have no chance of upsetting their hosts in Pretoria. Bulls to win by 25 points!

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Jono Ross, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Morné Mellett
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Dean Greyling, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Marvin Orie, 21 Jesse Kriel, 22 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23 William-Small Smith.

Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Colby Fainga'a, 7 Scott Fuglistaller (capt), 6 Luke Jones, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Lopeti Timani, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Alex Rokobaro.

Date: Friday, July 11
Venue: Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19:10 local time (18:10 BST, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
Television match official: Johan Greeff (South Africa)

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