After losing their opening fixtures last weekend, the Cheetahs and Bulls will both be desperate for victory when they clash in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Cheetahs will be kicking themselves after they finished on the losing side against the Lions at the same venue. This after Rohan Janse van Rensburg spared 2016’s runners-up’s blushes with a late try.
The Bulls on the other hand, were completely outplayed in their clash against the Stormers in Cape Town.
The Cheetahs, who came into the competition in a confident mood after winning the Currie Cup last year, delivered a rust performance against the Lions and their assistant coach, Corniel van Zyl expects an improved performance.
“Our focus this week will be to keep ball in hand and to get points on the board when we are in the attacking zone,” he said.
“We left a lot of points on the field last week and we will be more clinical this week. The Bulls also lost last week and we expect them to come here with everything they’ve got.”
One player who came out of that clash against the Lions with his reputation intact and of whom big things are expected is fly-half Fred Zeilinga.
The 24-year-old delivered a fine all-round effort and despite finishing on the losing side, he will be eager to build on that performance.
His direct opponent, Handré Pollard, scored 29 points against the Cheetahs the last time he faced them in Bloemfontein, but is adamant that everyone is on a clean slate this time around.
“What you achieved in the past means nothing if you don’t deliver your A-game every time, something myself and the team realised again last weekend in Cape Town,” he said.
“We need to produce come Saturday, with a performance that will do justice to the hard work done, but also to justify the support of our fans and the backing from our coaches. In short, we need to show that we are serious to win this competition.”
Bulls head coach Nollis Marais knows his side can ill afford to slip up against the Cheetahs and is looking for improvement from his troops after last weekend’s poor effort in Cape Town.
“We were outplayed by a better team on the day,” he said.
“It was a very good reality check and lessons were learned. We need to show that we can learn from mistakes and improve on them,” Marais said.
“The Cheetahs will be hurting after that close loss to the Lions last weekend and will be motivated in what happened in our last match in Bloemfontein.
“I have no doubt that this group of Bulls players are good enough to be real contenders, but that belief will be tested by a side that refuses to give up or accept defeat.
“We have another massive challenge ahead of us, but I can honestly say that everyone in the squad is looking forward to this.”
The last time these teams met: The Bulls were in a rampant mood when these sides met in the last match of 2016’s league phase of the competition as they secured an easy 43-17 victory in Bloemfontein. There was little to play for as both sides failed to reach the play-offs but the Bulls dominated for large periods and led 18-3 at the break. They eventually outscored their hosts by five tries to two with Travis Ismaiel and Renaldo Bothma both dotting down twice and Jamba Ulengo also crossing the whitewash. Clayton Blommetjies and Carl Wegner scored the Cheetahs’ tries.
Players to watch: After coming off the bench against the Lions, Tshego “Ox” Nche will be keen to make full use of his chance in the starting line-up. The 21-year-old is a solid scrummager and will be keen to get stuck into his Springbok counterpart Trevor Nyakane who battled in the scrums against the Stormers. Nche is a moblie front-row so don’t be surprised if he makes an impact with ball in hand.
Although the Bulls battled for large periods against the Stormers, their number eight Hanro Liebenberg impressed as a ball carrier and was eventually rewarded with a brace of tries. If the Bulls’ forwards get some momentum, he should be a handful for the Cheetahs’ defenders.
Team news: The Cheetahs have made two changes to their side for this clash. Rising star Nche will start at loosehead prop, replacing Charles Marais who will move to the bench. Ryno Benjamin will replace Sergeal Petersen who is sidelined due to a knee injury sustained in the match against the Lions last week. Ruan van Rensburg is new on the bench and will make his Super Rugby debut if he runs onto the field.
Bulls coach Nollis Marais has drafted in Jason Jenkins to replace Lood de Jager and made a switch at prop for this game. Lizo Gqoboka comes in for Pierre Schoeman at loosehead prop in the only other personnel change to the XV that went down to the Stormers. De Jager’s unavailability due to concussion will see Jenkins combining with RG Snyman at lock. The duo will have little difficulty in partnering up. They played together in seven matches in last year’s tournament. Renaldo Bothma will fill the vacancy on the bench left by the promotion of Jenkins.
Form: The Cheetahs kicked off their campaign with a 28-25 defeat against the Lions in Bloemfontein. Both sides battled to get going and the Lions eventually outscored their hosts by two tries to one with the Cheetahs’ five-pointer scored by Raymond Rhule.
The Bulls looked off the pace in their opener against the Stormers and it was little surprise that they failed to secure victory. The men from Pretoria battled to get going and after trailing 24-0 at half-time, eventually lost 37-24.
Prediction: This should be a closely contested affair but homeground advantage will be crucial. Cheetahs to win by three points.
2016: Bulls won 43-17 in Bloemfontein
2016: Bulls won 23-18 in Pretoria
2015: Cheetahs won 42-29 in Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 39-20 in Bloemfontein
2014: Bulls won 26-21 in Pretoria
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
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Tshego Nche
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Danie Mienie, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Ruan van Rensburg
Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Handre Pollard (c), 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Renaldo Bothma, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Warrick Gelant
Date: Saturday, March 4
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off: 19:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)