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Preview: Blues v Bulls

08th March 2013 12:13

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Rene Ranger Blues v Bulls 2012

Blues dangerman: Rene Ranger

The Bulls will have it all to do against the in-form team of the tournament when they take on the Blues at Auckland's Eden Park.

Whilst both sides are undefeated thus far with two wins from two, the Kiwi outfit have stood out head and shoulders above their South African counterparts.

The Aucklanders' surprise demolition job of the Hurricanes and Crusaders, with the latter kept tryless for the first time in several years, have been most impressive. The eye-catching back-to-back victories is also a first for the Blues in a Super Rugby season since 2008.

The Bulls, meanwhile, are yet to click into fifth gear having escaped with wins over the Stormers and Western Force in Pretoria. Though the three-time Super Rugby champions occupy top spot in the SA conference (and third overall), a loss in New Zealand could very well see the Sharks leapfrog them if they beat the Kings.

History also is against the visitors at Eden Park, where they have never managed to record a win against the Blues. The closest they've ever came to beating the Blues away from home was in 2008, when they lost 21-23 despite outscoring their opponents by three tries to two.

Added to this, the Bulls also lost their last home game against the Blues (in 2012), meaning their last victory over the New Zealanders was back in the opening round of 2009.

And Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is well aware of the challenge facing his troops, who have won five of their last six opening matches overseas.

"They (the Blues) play very enterprising rugby," said Ludeke.

"We have been up and down and our aim will be to produce the good spells for longer.

"We also know we will have to pick up points on tour if we want to be around at the business end of the competition".

Both sides have made wholesale changes for this Round Four hit-out, though the Bulls' selection has been more injury-forced than anything else with Bjorn Basson, Francois Hougaard, Werner Kruger and Chiliboy Ralepelle all missing from last week's starting line-up.

Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan has opted to rotate his squad in a bid to give a number of players the chance to impress. That means Tim Perry, Quentin MacDonald, Liaki Moli and Kane Barrett will come into the pack, while Baden Kerr and Waisake Naholo are added to the backs.

Prediction: Do we think the Bulls can break their Auckland duck and beat the Blues for the first time ever in New Zealand? No we don't. Blues by nine!

The teams:

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Kane Barrett, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Ronald Raaymakers, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Marty McKenzie, 22 Albert Nikoro.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Mornè Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Jürgen Visser.

Date: Sunday, March 10
Kick-off: 16:05 (03:05 GMT)
Venue: Eden Park
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks727
2Bulls717
3Lions816
4Cheetahs89
5Stormers66