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Preview: Cheetahs v Bulls

20th February 2014 09:44

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Akona Ndungane Bulls v Cheetahs 2012

Bulls and Cheetahs: Already under pressure

The Cheetahs will be aiming to claim their first-ever Super Rugby win against the Bulls when they clash in Bloemfontein on Friday.

Victor Matfield will set a new South African record for Super Rugby appearances as he will play in his 126th match (117 Bulls, 8 Cats). He currently shares the record with John Smit and AJ Venter.

The veteran lock will once start from the bench but his role in the Bulls side has become even more important since the untimely withdrawal of skipper Pierre Spies due to injury.

The two losing sides from Round One face off at the Free State Stadium looking to get their respective campaigns back on track after disappointing performances on the opening day.

The Bulls were completely outplayed by the Sharks in Durban, leading coach Frans Ludeke to dish out some very stern words during the week, lamenting his team's inability to cash in on their opportunities.

Ludeke lashed out at his side's poor decision making but insisted that there is nothing wrong with their tactical blueprint, saying they would be sticking to the kicking tactics that brought them success in the past.

"I still believe in it. I know what people are referring to, there are times when it is on to run the ball and we're on the front foot and we kick that good possession away," said Ludeke.

"It is about decision-making, we will get better with every game and we are aware of it. But to use the boot to get out of your own half is a principle of the game, but we do need to look at our decision-making.

The pressure is already on the Cheetahs, who cannot afford to lose two home games in a row if they are to have any hope of making the play-offs.

Much like the Bulls, the Cheetahs were the architects of their own downfall last week as the first game of the season produced the first surprise result. There is no way the Lions should have won that game given the Cheetahs' domination in the possession and territory stakes.

Coach Naka Drotské says their performance against the Lions was their worst in three years, but said he would not restrict play-making full-back Willie le Roux, who blew hot and cold last week.

Like his Bulls counterpart, Drotské pointed towards better decision making as the key to victory.

"In the past the decision-making and execution of Willie [le Roux] was always spot on," said Drotské.

"To now, after just one game, tell him he is not allowed to play off-the-cuff would be stupid."

It's early days yet but Friday's fixture is likely to be crucial in the South African conference as the losing team will find it very difficult to recover from back-to-back loses.

Recent results:
2013: Bulls won 30-25, Bloemfontein
2013: Bulls won 26-20, Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 40-24, Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 51-19, Bloemfontein
2011: Bulls won 32-21, Pretoria
2011: Bulls won 25-23, Bloemfontein

Prediction: It's hard to ignore the Cheetahs' record of 11 consecutive losses to the Bulls in Super Rugby but the team from Pretoria were a shadow of the side that won the conference last year. Cheetahs by five points.

Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Shaun Venter 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagné, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Rynard Landman, 20 Jean Cook, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller.

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouche, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Flip van der Merwe (capt), 4 Grant Hattingh, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Wian Liebenberg, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handrč Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.

Date: Friday, February 21
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19.10 (17.10 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)

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