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Preview: Bulls v Western Force

01st March 2013 09:56

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Pierre Spies Bulls v Western Force SR 2011

Bulls: Struggled against the Force in previous encounters

The Bulls will be keen to build on their fine start to the tournament when they host the Western Force in Pretoria on Saturday.

The three-times champions' gave a dominant display in their 25-17 victory over the Stormers, at Loftus Versfeld, and a repeat of that performance could spell trouble for the Force.

In that triumph over the Stormers, the men from Pretoria put in a display reminiscent of the Bulls teams which won three Super Rugby titles.

That effort has set the benchmark for the rest of their campaign and they will fancy their chances against the Force who lost their opening two matches to the Rebels and the Kings.

The Bulls thrive in dominating the tight exchanges so don't be surprised if they keep the game tight, especially during the game's early stages.

Morne Steyn gave one of his best performances, in a while, last weekend. His allround kicking was superb and he varied his play well by linking well with his outside backs.

If his forwards provide him a solid platform the Springbok pivot could be running the show again in this clash.

Despite their fine performance against the Stormers, Frans Ludeke and his charges will not underestimate the Force as they have not always had things going their way against them.

The Bulls have won three and lost three of their six previous encounters against the Force. And Ludeke's men were on the losing side the last time they faced their opponents - a 26-21 loss in Perth in 2011.

After being ambushed against the Kings last weekend, the Force know they have another uphill task ahead of them in this encounter.

The Perth-based franchise have lost their two opening fixtures, to the Rebels and the Kings, and will be feeling the heat to at least get a bonus point from their two-match tour to South Africa.

There have been some positives which emerged during their two defeats.

Amongst the backs, left wing Alfie Mafi has impressed on attack. Mafi is currently amongst the tournament's leading try-scorers, with three five-pointers in two matches.

And in the forwards, loosehead prop Pek Cowan has made a fantastic start to the tournament.

Cowan's general play has shown great improvement and he seldom takes a backward step in the scrums. However, he faces an acid test in the set-piece against the Bulls who place great emphasis in that aspect of the game.

Prediction: Playing in their own backyard means that the Bulls will go into this clash as overwhelming favourites. They seldom lose in front of their fervent supporters and don't expect this match to be any different. Bulls to win by 15 points!

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Mornè Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouchè, 22 Jan Serfontein.

Western Force: 15 Will Tupou, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Matt Hodgson (capt), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Chris Alcock, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jayden Hayward.

Date: Saturday, March 2
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Venue: Loftus Versfeld
Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa),Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
Television match official: Johan Greeff (South Africa)

By David Skippers

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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks727
2Bulls717
3Lions816
4Cheetahs89
5Stormers66