Preview: Bulls vs Lions
The Bulls know their hard work during a topsy-turvy Super Rugby season will come to nothing if they fall over the last hurdle against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday evening.
As it stands, a bonus-point win over their southern neighbours will be enough to put the Bulls into the Finals Series.
They missed out last year by virtue of defeat at the hands of the Sharks at Loftus and would like to avoid a similar scenario in 2012.
“We don’t need to tell the players at this stage of the competition what is at stake,” said Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, whose team has never lost to the Lions in Super Rugby.
“Everyone knows that the rewards for the hard work that we have put in can be justified with a good win. We had the play-offs as our first objective for the season, but definitely not our only one.
“We respect the Lions and are expecting them to come at us with everything they have. They have nothing to lose, so will be a very dangerous side. We need to focus on what we want to achieve, go out and execute that. The pressure will be on us to improve from last weekend.
“We will be going for the win first and foremost. We are not going to try and dictate any permutations. If you try to do that, you can lose focus on the task at hand. If we lose we are out, so the win will be the only focus for us.”
In their eight clashes since 2006 – when the Cats split up into the Lions and the Cheetahs – the Bulls have won with a try-scoring bonus point four times, of which two matches were at Loftus. On both those occasions (51-11 in 2010 and 46-17 in 2006) the home team scored a total of six tries.
The Lions will be chasing only their third away win against South African opposition in Super Rugby. They’ve won two from 17 – in 2008 (23-22) and 2011 (25-20) against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
In fact, they’ve won more away games against overseas opposition (five from 31) than in South Africa.
Key Battle: Morne Steyn vs. Elton Jantjies. The present against the future as far as South African rugby is concerned.
Jantjies may be behind Pat Lambie in the pecking order a this stage with the injured Johan Goosen bound to enter the equation soon, but an influential performance on Saturday would significantly boost the young Lions pivot’s stocks.
Last Meeting: Bulls 32-18 Lions (Johannesburg).
Prediction: The Lions’ record against the Bulls and on the road against South African opposition paint a clear picture as to whether we’ll see an upset at Loftus.
Add the fact that the Bulls are playing to stay alive in the competition and the possibility of a Lions win borders on zero. Bulls by 12 points.
Saturday 14 July: Bulls vs. Lions, Pretoria (19:10)
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Deon Stegmann, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Francois Venter.
Lions: 15 James Kamana, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 JR Esterhuizen, 22 Ruan Combrinck.