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Preview: Bulls v Kings

27th June 2013 15:23

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Jan Serfontein scoring for the Bulls v Kings

Talent: Jan Serfontein

The leaders and strugglers in the South African Conference face off on Saturday when the Bulls host the Kings at Loftus.

One key figure shared by the two sides so far this season is '3' - the Kings' number of victories as well as the number of losses for the Bulls.

Frans Ludeke's team appear to be genuine title contenders three years on from when they last lifted the Super Rugby title in 2010 - handling the loss of star players overseas by blooding younger talent.

The new crop taking the Bulls forward, including JJ Englebrecht, Arno Botha, Jan Serfontein and Jürgen Visser, are all phenomenal prospects and should set the Bulls up for years of success to come, as long as they also are not lured overseas.

Topping the attacking stats is never likely for the Bulls - simply because they are too good at what they do by keeping the ball tight. No side has a better lineout success rate at 90.8 per cent and the power they generate from the resulting rolling mauls are difficult for any side to stop. Bizarrely another Bulls traditional strength, the scrum, has the worst success rate in the league at 82 per cent.

Individual performances have also come from Juandré Kruger, with the second highest number of lineout takes in the league, whilst Morné Steyn yet again finds himself top of the pile when it comes to points scored with 196 - a clear 20 points above Christian Lealiifano.

All in all the Bulls traditional system is not broken, so why fix it? It's put them top of the South African Conference and eight points clear of the Cheetahs with a game in hand. The addition of some sparkling flair from Visser, Serfontein and the rest has made the Bulls feel like title contenders.

As for the Kings, the early spark of their debut campaign has gradually fizzled out as they face up to the task of a relegation decider against the Stormers at the end of the season.

Statistically, the Kings are one of the worst attacking sides in the tournament, with only the Stormers having scored fewer tries than the Kings' 23 thus far.

The newcomers also find themselves in the bottom two for carries, metres made, offloads and defenders beaten.

Surprisingly, their work on the defensive side of the ball is outstanding. No side in Super Rugby this year has a better tackle success percentage than the Kings' 89.4%

The Port Elizabeth outfit however have found themselves outmuscled on too many occasions - finishing bottom of the pile when it comes to scrum success and at the breakdown.

Wimpie van der Walt's defensive prowess in particular makes him stand out from the pack - accounting for the second highest number of tackles by a player this season with 187.

Overall though, the Kings have fallen short in too many areas to be consistently competitive - finding themselves only two points above the Highlanders propping up the table.

Add in the loss of influential captain Luke Watson for the remainder of the season and their backs are against the wall.

"Luke is an excellent player, and an excellent leader, but unfortunately this season, Luke has just had a litany of injuries. He's just had really bad luck. The first half of last year he didn't play, then at the end of last year he hurt his ankle against the Leopards in the semi final [of the Currie Cup]," said head coach Alan Solomons.

"He suffered a throat injury against the Western Force and the ankle has still been worrying him. The consequence is that, through no fault of Luke's, he has just not been able to play much rugby this year.

"So what has happened is that the team has had to play without him, and Andries has had to step into the breach and has done a magnificent job, and we are fortunate to have guys like him and Darron here.

"Of course we miss him, but we have had to play a lot of the Super Rugby without him as a necessity because of his injuries."

Prediction: The Bulls were 34-0 winners when these two sides met in Port Elizabeth back in April, so a similar outcome seems fair at Loftus. Bulls by 25.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter (capt), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Morné Steyn, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.

Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Marcello Sampson, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Andries Strauss (capt), 11 Michael Killian, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Darron Nell, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Grant Kemp, 17 Hannes Franklin, 18 Rynier Bernardo, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Shane Gates.

Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks727
2Bulls717
3Lions816
4Cheetahs89
5Stormers66