Preview: Bulls v Cheetahs

02nd May 2014, 09:53

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Needs to improve: Francois Hougaard

Needs to improve: Francois Hougaard

The Bulls enter Saturday's contest against the Cheetahs knowing that a loss at home would put a serious dent in their play-off ambitions.

The Bulls enter Saturday's Super Rugby contest against a resurgent Cheetahs outfit knowing that a loss at home would put a serious dent in their play-off ambitions.

At the completion of this derby the Pretoria-based outfit have three more dates at Loftus Versfeld and should have a shot at finishing in the top six - if they steer clear of a stumble at their fortress.

This season neither the Bulls nor the Cheetahs have tasted success away from home, but then the boys from Bloemfontein started this year having never beaten the Bulls in this competition and would have gained great confidence when they ended that winless run at a wet Free State Stadium in February.

It was indeed an important first for Naka Drotske's men.

In another mental milestone this week Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss will become the first of the player of the central franchise to play in 100 Super Rugby matches.

Strauss has become such a prolific figure in the team that, on the rare occasions when he is not at his best, an implosion is almost guaranteed.

The Springbok hooker is known to bring structure and composure to any side he plays in, although one of his key strengths over the years has been his ability to retain possession when going into contact.

Strauss should have a field day in Pretoria as his opponent on the day is considered to be the weakest link in the Bulls squad.

Bulls hooker Callie Visagie will make his return to action this week having missed the team last match on tour through injury.

Should he come close to matching Strauss' work-rate his team should have a better chance, yet it remains a mystery why the inexperienced number two will again start ahead of the in-form Bongi Mbonambi and Bandise Maku, who last week earned his 50th Super Rugby cap.

To their credit, the Bulls were still able to rotate some of their key players despite the scary length of their injury list.

In the most important changes to the team fly-half Jacques-Louis Potgieter and centre JJ Engelbrecht will start from the bench with youngsters Handre Pollard and William Small-Smith taking over in those respective roles.

The Cheetahs showed more continuity in their team selection although that was always to be expected after they moved past the Stormers at the bottom of the log standings last week.

As for the strategy these sides will bring to the contest, it is unlikely that the Cheetahs will move away from their all-out attacking mindset while only subtle changes to the well documented Bulls game plan are to be expected.

For the Bulls to have any chance of succeeding scrum-half Francois Hougaard will have to make a 90 percent box-kick improvement.

Another poor performance by the contracted Springbok should result in Rudi Paige being rewarded with a start.

While solid at set-phase, the Bulls should know that their opponents will take no prisoners at the breakdown where Heinrich Brussow is likely to turn-over possession and, perhaps more importantly, slow down first phase ball that the Bulls so desperately need to bring their big ball carrying loose-forwards into the game.

Form: Having been stuck in a depressive rut for the greater part of the season the Cheetahs finally managed to play to their potential as they ended a seven-match winless run against the Stormers last week. The Bulls have been the more consistent of the two teams, but have not won a match in their last five attempts, losing four on the road after drawing their last match at Loftus against the Chiefs.

Recent results:
2014: Cheetahs won 15-9 in Bloemfontein
2013: Bulls won 30-25 in Bloemfontein
2013: Bulls won 26-20 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 40-24 in Pretoria

Prediction: In a match where the a conservative approach will be matched against one where spontaneity is encouraged, the discipline factor becomes that much greater. The Cheetahs should enter this match as favourites, but this desperate Bulls outfit should win by 5.

The teams:

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

Cheetahs:15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Ligtoring Landman, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Cornal Hendricks.

Date: Saturday, May 3
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17:05 local (13.05 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)