Preview: Melbourne Rebels v Bulls

Date published: June 5 2015

The Bulls will have to bring their A-game with them when they take on the Rebels in this crucial Super Rugby clash in Melbourne on Saturday.

This is the Pretoria-based outfit's final match of their overseas tour and after losing their three previous matches in Australasia they simply have to beat the Rebels and secure a try-scoring bonus point in the process to keep their slim hopes alive of reaching the play-offs.

The Bulls are currently in ninth spot on the table just one place above the Rebels, who despite losing their last three matches, head into this game with plenty to play for.

They might be out of the running for the play-offs – as they are five points adrift of the Bulls – but this has been their best season since their first season in the competition in 2011.

The Rebels are back at home after two defeats on the road, to the Sharks and Stormers in South Africa.

They showed plenty of charachter in that clash against the Sharks, and despite playing with 14 men for men for 50 minutes – after prop Laurie Weeks was sent of for punching – were competitive throughout before suffering a narrow 25-21 loss.

Statistically, the Rebels have done well with ball in hand this season. They have made the second most carries (1706) – behind the Waratahs – for the season and are sixth highest (6283) for metres gained in 2015.

They are, however, the side with the weakest line-out in the tournament with a 77.9% success rate while the Bulls are fourth highest in this department with an 89.1% succes rate.

Interestingly, the Rebels are the team with the best success rate at the rucks (96%) while the Bulls are statistically the worst in this facet of play (92%) and they have also made the least offloads (77) for the year.

Bulls head coach Frans Ludeke highlighted how important victory is for his side.

“We have not achieved the results we have hoped for this far on tour and we have to win this one to stay in the competition," he said.

"In fact, we see this as a knock-out match. We cannot afford defeat and will go into this match in play-off mode.”

The last time these teams met: The Bulls were in a rampant mood and finished of their 2014 campaign with a crushing 40-7 victory over the Rebels in Pretoria. The result was significant as it meant they finished the 2014 season unbeaten at Loftus Versfeld. Second-row Paul Willemse led the way for the Bulls with two tries with Francois Hougaard and Dean Greyling also crossing over for five-pointers for the hosts. Handre Pollard contributed 18 points via four penalties and three conversions and Jacques-Louis Potgieter also added a conversion. The Rebels points came via a try and conversion from their fly-half Jack Debreczeni.

Players to watch: Rebels captain and number eight Scott Higginbotham has been in solid form throughout their campaign but he took his game to another level in the loss to the Sharks last weekend. Despite playing most of that match with 14 men, Higginbotham kept his side in the game with an inspirational showing. He made several line breaks and was eventually rewarded with a brace of tries.

If the Bulls want to go into next weekend's final round of league matches still in contention for a play-off place then much will depend on the performance of their fly-half, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, against the Rebels. Potgieter must keep the scoreboard ticking with accuarate goal-kicking and also unleash his outside backs in a bid to secure a try-scoring bonus point.

Team news: Rebels boss Tony McGahan has made four changes to his starting XV. It's a special occasion for tighthead prop Paul Alo-Emile who will become the sixth player in the club’s history to make his 50th appearance. Amongst the backs, left wing Cam Crawford is named for his first start at AAMI Park, outside centre Tamati Ellison returns from a short injury lay-off and scrum-half Nic Stirzaker starts after coming off the bench last weekend. On the bench, young Rebels Sam Jeffries, Ben Meehan and Tim Metcher are all included in the matchday 23.

Bulls boss Frans Ludeke has made seven changes to his run-on side. In the back-linefull-back Jesse Kriel, winger Travis Ismaiel and fly-half Jacques-Louis Potgieter all move into starting positions off the bench, replacing Jurgen Visser, Bjorn Basson and Handré Pollard respectively. Visser and Basson will play off the bench, but Pollard will be rested for this clash which means Tian Schoeman will be the back-up pivot on the bench. Up front, Lappies Labuschagne replaces the injured Deon Stegmann, while Grant Hattingh drops to the bench to make way for Victor Matfield. Jacques du Plessis comes in at seven for Arno Botha who is also bench. Adriaan Strauss was not considered due to the resting agreement with SARU, resulting in Callie Visagie running onto the field for his 50th match for the Bulls in the number two jersey. Jaco Visagie will be his back-up on the bench.

Form: The Rebels suffered a narrow 25-21 defeat to the Sharks in Durban last weekend and also lost to the Stormers in Cape Town two weeks ago and to the Reds in their last match before heading out to South Africa. Their last victory was registered in Round 13 when they beat the Blues in Melbourne. The Bulls last won in Round 12, when they secured a narrow 35-33 victory over the Lions in Pretoria. They have lost their last three matches on their overseas trip against the Blues, Chiefs and Brumbies.

Prediction: The Rebels are yet to beat the Bulls and even though they will be playing in Melbourne the visitors will be triumphant again. It will be close but the Bulls will win by four points!

Previous results:

2014: Bulls won 40-7 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 41-35 in Melbourne
2011: Bulls won 47-10 in Pretoria

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Tom English.

Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies , 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Pieter Labuschagne, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van de Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Bjorn Basson, 23 Jurgen Visser.

Date: Saturday, June 6
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 15:30 local (09:30 GMT; 17:30 NZST, 07:30 SAST)
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant referees: James Leckie, Michael Hogan
TMO: Ian Smith