Preview: Bulls v Western Force

Date published: March 20 2015

The Bulls will be keen to continue their recent revival when they host the Western Force in Pretoria on Saturday.

After a slow start, the homeside's campaign have gathered momentum in recent weeks and after successive wins over the Sharks and Cheetahs they know a bonus-point victory against the Force will bring them to within a point of the Stormers, who are at the top of the South African Conference table.

The Force have battled this season and are playing the first match of their South African tour. They are currently second from bottom in the Australian Conference, on six points from five matches played – just a point above the bottom-placed Reds – and are in 12th spot on the overall standings.

But despite that, they have always been competitive against the Bulls and the home side's captain Pierre Spies expects another close encounter.

“The Force cannot be underestimated, given the closeness of results between the teams in the past," said Spies.

"We always seem to be in tight matches against each other. The trick for us will be to play the big moments better and to execute whenever we create scoring opportunities."

The Force are under the cosh after losing four games on the trot in recent weeks.

They started their campaign with a morale-boosting win over the defending champions, the Waratahs but were then on the receiving end of losses to the Reds, Hurricanes, Brumbies and Rebels.

Despite their poor form, Force coach Michael Foley is optimistic they can turn the corner against the Bulls.

“While we’ve shown elements of what we’re capable of through the first part of the competition, it’s important we extend those moments through 80-minute performances,” he said.

“To a man, we all recognise that if we play from the start of matches with the same intensity and urgency we’ve seen as we’ve fought our way back into games in the last two weeks, the results will follow.”

Last time out: The previous match between these sides was a scrappy affair in Perth and the home side secured a narrow 19-9 victory. The Force's hero was their South African fly-half Sias Ebersohn who scored all their points via five penalties. It was a crushing blow for the Bulls as it meant they finished their overseas tour without a win after losses to the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Waratahs in their previous games.

Players to watch: For the home side their young fly-half Handrè Pollard has been in fine form in recent weeks and if the Force want to be successful, they must try to keep him quiet – a difficult task in front of the Loftus Versfeld faithful.

For the visitors, Kyle Goldwin has impressed despite his side's poor start to the season. Usually an inside centre, Godwin will wear the number 13 jersey in this clash and he will be expected to get his side over the advantage line with his attacking runs in midfield.

Team news: The Bulls' Springbok props Marcel van der Merwe and Dean Greyling will make their first starts in Super Rugby this year. They replace Trevor Nyakane and Mornè Mellett respectively while veteran Bok lock Victor Matfield is being rested and moves down to the bench. His place is taken by Grant Hattingh. Amongst the replacements, Arno Botha replaces Hanro Liebenberg while Jaco Visagie replaces the injured Callie Visagie as the back-up hooker.

For the visitors, 21-year-old flanker Kane Koteka will make his starting debut in a new-look back row alongside Steve Mafi, who shifts to the blindside flank from lock, and Ben McCalman at number eight. Mafi's position in the second row is taken by Adam Coleman while Sias Ebersohn returns to the run-on side at fly-half and there's a new midfield combination with Luke Burton moving from full-back to inside centre and Kyle Godwin shifts out a position to wear the number 13 jersey and Luke Morahan takes over from Burton at the back.

Form: After suffering defeats to the Stormers and Hurricanes in their first two matches, the Bulls have bounced back with solid victories over the Sharks and Cheetahs in recent weeks.

The Force's campaign kicked off with an impressive away win over the Waratahs in Round One but they are yet to win again after successive losses against the Reds, Hurricanes, Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels.

Prediction: Facing the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld is one of the toughest tasks in the game and the hosts will be cruising for most of this clash. Bulls to win by 20 points!

Previous results:

2014: Western Force won 14-9 in Perth
2013: Bulls won 36-26 in Pretoria
2011: Western Force won 26-21 in Perth
2010: Bulls won 28-15 in Perth

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Morne Mellett, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Piet van Zyl, 23 Jurgen Visser

Western Force: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes (c), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Oliver Hoskins/Guy Millar, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Angus Cottrell, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Solomoni Jnr Rasolea.

Date: Saturday, March 21
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15.05 GMT, 04.05 NZST, 02.05 AEST)
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Pro Legoete (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)