Preview: Bulls v Cheetahs
After claiming five successive wins, for the first time in their history, the Cheetahs face a stern test against the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Bulls return to action after last weekend's bye but are in the middle of a slump after suffering three successive away defeats - against the Crusaders, Reds and Brumbies - on their recent tour to Australasia.
From those results, the Bulls were only outplayed by the Crusaders, in their second match, after they got their tour off to a superb start with their first ever win over the Blues in Auckland.
The defeats to the Reds and Brumbies were both narrow, with the loss against the Canberra-based franchise sealed after the hosts slotted a controversial penalty in injury time.
However, the home side head into this clash knowing that they hold a huge psychological edge over the men from Bloemfontein. The Bulls are one of only two teams that the Cheetahs have failed to beat since they joined the competition in 2006.
The other team is the Chiefs, who have drawn twice with the Cheetahs (in 2007 in Bloemfontein and 2010 in Hamilton).
The Bulls lead the head-to-head stakes between these sides 9-0. The closest the Cheetahs came to upsetting the men from Pretoria was in 2011 in Bloem, when they lost 23-25.
Last year, the Bulls won both derbies easily (51-19 at the Free State Stadium and 40-24 at Loftus Versfeld).
The Cheetahs will not pay attention to those statistics, however, and coach Naka Drotské and his team are looking forward to the trip to Pretoria, but still expect a tough encounter at Loftus Versfeld.
“Like we were against the Stormers, we’ll still be the underdogs against the Bulls,” Drotské said.
“We have a bunch of young players who have surprised everyone in Super Rugby, especially with regards to fitness. And that is one thing you need against the Bulls. But at Loftus against the Bulls I don’t think the visitors are ever the favourites.
“We couldn’t beat the Stormers since 2007 and we haven’t beaten the Bulls at Loftus in Super Rugby. But well keep on working hard.”
In their five successive wins - over the Highlanders, Waratahs, Western Force, Rebels and Stormers - the Cheetahs showed that they have the abiltiy to score tries from all areas. In the midfield, Robert Ebersohn has impressed since shifting from outside to inside centre while wings Raymond Rhule and Willie le Roux are two of the most exciting attacking players in the tournament.
Super head-to-head: Cheetahs fly-half Burton Francis has been in fine form since coming into the starting XV as a late replacement before the game against the Rebels. But Bulls pivot Morné Steyn is back in Pretoria - where he seldom has an off day - and will display his full array of skills in a bid to help his side return to the victory trail.
Prediction: Even though the Cheetahs are on a high and the Bulls are in the midst of a slump, the men from Pretoria are in fromt of their fanatical home crowd. That should give them a lift and end the Cheetahs' winning run. Bulls by seven points!
Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morné Mellet.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Paul Willemse, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Louis Fouchè, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johan Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk De Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Rynhard Landman, 19 Frans Viljoen, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Date: Saturday, April 13
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19.10 (17.10 GMT)
Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)