Preview: Bulls v Lions

Date published: May 27 2016

There will be plenty at stake when the Bulls take on the Lions in their South African Super Rugby derby in Pretoria on Saturday.

The Bulls and Lions are sitting pretty at the top of their respective conferences but can ill afford a defeat as there are just four rounds of matches left in this year's competition.

And with the break for the June internationals looming, both sides will be keen to finish of this stage of the competition on a positive note. 

The home side heads into this clash with a spring in their step after beating the Stormers at home – where they are unbeaten this year – last weekend. That result was a massive confidence booster for the three-time champions as it was their first victory since they beat the Western Force in Round 10 and it also ended a four-game losing streak against the men from the Cape.

An encounter between two South African sides is usually a brutal and physical one, with both sets of players trying to bash each other into oblivion while showing a total disregard to the impact such tactics have on their own bodies.

While it's fair to say the forwards will stay true to that tradition, both these teams have been keen to take the ball out wide this term and the respective back-lines will be eager to showcase their skills.

The loss of Elton Jantjies to injury is a massive blow for the Lions as his playmaking skills played a major role in guiding them to the top of the South African Group. 

The Lions' ball-in-hand approach has reaped the rewards and they are third highest in the competition for tries scored (48) and metres gained (5471) and they are the top team for defenders beaten (302).

The Bulls, meanwhile, have the best line-out success rate (92 percent) and also top the tournament's defensive charts.

The last time these teams met: The Bulls claimed a 35-33 victory at Loftus Versfeld in Round 12 last year. The win moved them to the top of the South African Conference and tries from Piet van Zyl, JJ Engelbrecht and Pierre Spies helped them to victory and Handre Pollard kicked three penalties and three conversions. For the Lions, Faf de Klerk, Jaco Kriel and Jacques van Rooyen crossed the whitewash and Elton Jantjies slotted four penalties and three conversions.

Players to watch: Bulls openside flanker Lappies Labuschagne delivered a superb defensive display in last weekend's victory over the Stormers. Labuschagne seemed to be everywhere against the men from the Cape and finished that match with 25 tackles made. Labuschagne's prowess at the breakdowns has also been impressive and his battle for the loose ball with Lions tearaway Jaco Kriel should be one of this fixture's highlights.

With first-choice pivot Elton Jantjies injured, Lions head coach Johan Ackermann has been forced to select Marnitz Boshoff, who will make his first appearance of the season for the team. When on song, the Springbok is one of the best goal-kickers in the competition but his playmaking skills are not as good as Jantjies' and it is this facet of play which could ultimately determine this fixture's result.

Team news: Bulls head coach Nollis Marais made minimal changes to the squad that did battle successfully against the Stormers last week. Travis Ismaiel was withdrawn from the team due to personal commitments, and will be replaced by Bjorn Basson on the left wing. Hooker Bandise Maku also comes in on the bench in place of Jaco Visagie in a straight switch.

The Lions, meanwhile, have rung the changes with seven alterations made to their starting line-up. In the back-line, fly-half Boshoff makes his first start of the campaign as a replacement for the injured Jantjies. Elsewhere, Sylvian Mahuza also gets his first start, coming in for Jaco van der Walt, who sustained a knee injury against the Jaguares last weekend. In other rotational changes, Malcolm Marx, Andries Ferreira, Warwick Tecklenburg and Rohan Janse van Rensburg all return to the run-on side after being rested last weekend. Ashlon Davis has been included on the bench and if he gets a run will make his debut in the back-line.

Form: The Bulls returned to the victory trail with their 17-13 triumph over the Stormers in Pretoria last weekend. Prior to that, they suffered back-to-back defeats against the Brumbies and Waratahs after kicking off their Australian tour with a won over the Western Force.

The Lions suffered a humiliating 50-17 defeat to the Hurricanes in Johannesburg in Round 10 before having a bye the following week. That break seemed to have the desired effect as they bounced back impressive victories against the Blues (43-5) and Jaguares (52-24).

Prediction: Although the Lions are on fire, the Bulls are a different side at Loftus. That and Jantjies' absence will swing things in their favour. Bulls to win by six points!

Previous results:
2015: Bulls won 35-33 in Pretoria
2015: Lions won 22-15 in Johannesburg
2014: Lions won 32-21 in Johannesburg
2014: Bulls won 25-17 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 37-20 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 32-18 in Johannesburg
2011: Bulls won 30-23 in Pretoria
2011: Bulls won 24-20 in Johannesburg

The teams:

Bulls: 15 SP Marais, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel vd Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Deon Stegmann, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel

Lions: 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf De Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith 
Replacements: 16 Armand Van Der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques Van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Ashlon Davids

Date: Saturday, May 28
Venue: Loftus Versfled, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17:10 local (15:10 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Christie du Preez