Preview: Cheetahs v Bulls

Date published: March 6 2015

Having started the Super Rugby season with back-to-back victories, the Cheetahs will fancy their chances of making it three from three when they host the Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

This match should be a humdinger as the sides head into the contest having ticked many boxes as far as their general objectives this season is concerned.

Confidence is also at acceptable levels in both camps while injuries have not had a huge impact on their player resources thus far.

While the Bulls only managed to grab their first win in their most recent outing against the Sharks, the Cheetahs were very accurate in their execution against both the Sharks and Blues with their forwards leading the charge.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this traditionally tough derby will be the mental edge and on that front the Pretoria outfit last year saw that advantage disappear as they suffered their first loss to the men from Bloemfontein in the history of the competition.

The Cheetahs have therefore won only eight per ent of their matches against the Bulls who came out on top in 12 of their 13 previous meetings.

For the Cheetahs this match presents another opportunity to not only strengthen their position in the standings, but also prove that they have ridden themselves from the historical shortcomings they may have had when facing the Bulls in this tournament.

Looking at this week’s match, the home side have always tried to assert their dominance early on and although they have succeeded with that in the past, Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske highlighted that defence would be vital to stop the Bulls battering ram.

"We want our defence to be better at stopping guys because the Bulls are one of those sides you can't give any inch on attack," said Drotské.

"If they get momentum, they are nearly impossible to stop. If you want to beat the Bulls, you have to be physical in your approach."

With smiles to show from their first win of the season, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is hoping that the bonus point win his men banked at Loftus last week is only the start of more good things to come.

“We finally found the momentum we were looking for in the opening rounds of the competition against the Sharks and managed four tries,” Ludeke told reporters in Pretoria.

“We will need the confidence and rhythm picked up on the weekend against the Cheetahs. They are one of the early front runners and will be full of self-belief.

The last time these team met: Although there was pre-season hit-out in Polowkane, the Bulls need only to look to their narrow victory at Loftus last year to fully comprehend the threat their hosts are likely to post this week. Both sides have shown improvement since, although the Cheetahs will this time have a far more experienced fly-half in their ranks which should make a huge difference to their tactical approach.

Players to watch: The halfback partnership between new recruit Joe Pietersen and Sarel Pretorius is proving to be one of the best moves Drotske could have made while the form of forwards Coenie Oosthuizen and Boom Prinsloo should further bolster confidence at both set phase and the breakdowns. It would also appear that Springbok full-back Willie le Roux is starting to hit his straps. For the Bulls, the metres captain Pierre Spies made with ball in hand against the Sharks was truly a revelation. Their main man has, however, been former Cheetahs stalwart Lappies Labuschagne who should again play a leading role in their charge.

Team news: While the Bulls made only one change to their bench with Piet van Zyl returning to the fray, the Cheetahs were forced to move Jean Cook to eighthman with Prinsloo starting at flank after Willie Britz suffered a hamstring injury.

Form: The Bulls were far more effective at clearing defenders at the breakdown last week, but so were the Cheetahs so neither of the sides should have any concerns about what they are capable of achieving heading into this bout.

Prediction: If the Cheetahs succeed in their quest of starving the Bulls from gaining momentum there is no reason why they should not be able to win it. The Bulls have, however, made great strides after suffering back-to-back losses at home. The men from Pretoria are likely to be the more desperate of the two teams and should edge their hosts. Bull by five points.

Previous results:

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

The teams:

Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Mienie
Replacements:16 Stephan Coetzee. 17 BG Uys, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Steven Sykes, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Johann Sadie

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

Date:Saturday, March 7
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Kick-off:  17:05 local (15:05 gmt, 04:10 aest, 06.10 nzst )
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jace van heerden, Lourens van der Merwe (both South Africa)