Preview: Bulls v Lions

Date published: May 1 2015

Saturday's clash in Pretoria is set to have extra spice as the Lions look to do the Jukskei Derby double over the Bulls for the first time.

Off the best run of results in their Super Rugby history – five wins in a row – the Lions are aiming to conquer fortress Loftus for the first time since 2012 and take a step towards the play-offs in the process.

It's been a memorable season for Johan Ackermann's team, who most pundits expected to be wallowing at the wrong end of the table by mid-season. The fact that all five of their recent wins have come by margins of five points or less indicates a mental strength and confidence that has been lacking in the past.

Things are clearly on the up. After previously being winless in 11 games against the Bulls, the Lions have won the last two contests against the three-time champs as they backed up a shock win at the end of last season with a last-gasp victory four weeks ago.

But both those positive results came in Johannesburg and travelling to the Loftus presents a very different challenge.

Indeed, the Bulls have lost just two of their last 24 home games in the regular season, with their back-to-back home defeats at the start of the season the only blemishes on that record (W21 D1).

The Bulls' scrum is a major concern after being shunted around by the Stormers pack last week, but they will start their best front-row this week as Trevor Nyakane features at loosehead.

As returning veteran Victor Matfield pointed out this week, the Bulls "need a solid performance before going on tour, so a win is pretty much non-negotiable."

Indeed, defeat would spell disaster for their play-off hopes but coach Frans Ludeke is confident that they are "creating a style of play that will make us contenders in the play-off stages of the competition."

"We are getting into the rhythm to play the type of match we want to play. Our defence structure is good and we are very competitive in every match we play," he explained.

"We need to tweak some aspects of our game though. All said, we need to show up against the Lions, who have shown their endurance and determination week after week."

The last time these team met: Armand van der Merwe's last-second try gave the Lions a 22-18 win over the Bulls at a drenched Ellis Park four weeks ago. The game looked to be heading for a draw before Jacques-Louis Potgieter's penalty put the Bulls up in the dying seconds only for the Lions' never-say-die attitude to be rewarded as scrum-half Faf de Klerk caught the men from Pretoria off-guard with a quick-tap penalty to set up the winner.

Players to watch: Veteran Springbok lock Victor Matfield is back to lead the home side. The Bulls are different beast with 'Big Vic' calling the shots at lineout time but it will be interesting to see if he can keep up with the pace of the Lions game on his return from knee surgery. Full-back Jesse Kriel leads the competition stats for metres gained this year, and is sure to pose a counter-attacking threat.

Lions half-backs Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk have been instrumental, with the former Bok fly-half returning to his best form while the latter has earned a call up to the upcoming Springbok training camp. The Lions back-row has however provided the key ingredient for their success this year, with their tireless tackling the envy of every defence coach in the competition.

Team news: Jan Serfontein is back at inside centre for the Bulls, with Burger Odendaal moving to the bench. Arno Botha and Lappies Labuschagne take over from Pierre Spies and Deon Stegmann in the loose trio. Matfield is back at lock for Grant Hattingh and will take over the captaincy while Trevor Nyakane will start at loosehead prop in the place of Dean Greyling, who was initially included on the bench, but was withdrawn after suffering minor injuries in a car accident.

The Lions backline shows a number of changes from last weekend, necessitated by an injury to Lionel Mapoe. Marnitz Boshoff starts at full-back and Howard Mnisi at inside centre, with Harold Vorster moving to outside centre and Andries Coetzee to left wing. In the only changes up front, Robbie Coetzee and Julian Redelinghuys will return to the front-row for this encounter with Armand van der Merwe and Ruan Dreyer moving to the bench.

Form: The Lions’ five-game winning streak is their best-ever and they are aiming for their seventh win of the season, which will equal their best in one campaign. They beat the Cheetahs 34-29 in an eight-try thriller last week. The Bulls have won six of their ten games this season but relinquished top spot in the SA conference to the Stormers after last week's 15-13 defeat in Cape Town.

Prediction: The last eight encounters between the Bulls and Lions have seen at least 40 points scored per game and an average of 50, so it's fair to expect a high-scoring game. Despite the Lions' recent run, the Bulls record on home soil speaks for itself. Bulls by seven points.

Previous results:
2015: Lions won 22-18 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

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Pieter Labuschagne, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Andrew Beerwinkel, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Pierre Spies, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Jurgen Visser.

Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Andries Coetzee, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Alwyn Hollenbach, 23 Courtnall Skosan.

Date: Saturday, May 2
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19:10 (17:10 GMT, 03:10 AEST, 05:10 NZST)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper , Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Deon van Blommestein