Preview: Cheetahs v Bulls
<b>Few would have predicted that the Cheetahs would be one of the sides fighting it out for top spot in the South African conference, but this year's edition of Super Rugby has certainly taught us to expect the unexpected.</b>
The Cheetahs' combination of flair, passion and hard graft has seen them surprise a number of teams this term. In fact, their their solid victories over the Kings last time out and the Reds before them shouldn't be seen as any form of a 'surprise', but rather as confirmation that the men from Bloemfontein are a team that needs to be taken very seriously.
When the two teams met earlier in the competition, two second-half tries for the Bulls saw them nab a 26-20 victory and with it end a Cheetahs five-match winning streak.
It's the Bulls who enter Saturday's match in fine form, having gone unbeaten in April and May, but the Cheetahs are by no means struggling either, with a disappointing loss to the Hurricanes aside, they've built on some strong early results.
Indeed, the Bulls' uninspiring victory over the Sharks last time out means that realistically the two teams that run out in Bloemfontein are the only South African outfits with a chance of qualifying for the play-offs.
The Bulls' run of victories has put them in pole position to take the honours in the conference, with a win in Bloemfontein sure to all but seal the deal for Frans Ludeke's men.
The Cheetahs expansive game is in contrast to the one the Bulls would like to see as they favour keeping the contest among the tight men, and the home side's eagerness to get the game going could see them punished at the breakdown - if you believe Heyneke Meyer that is.
The Springbok coach spoke this week of flanker Heinrich Brussow's penchant for getting pinged at the breakdown, comments which were met largely with disapproval. The stats suggest that the context of Northern Hemisphere referees may be Meyer's only saving grace, with the Cheetahs number six not conceding a single penalty last time out against the Kings or when the Cheetahs first faced the Bulls.
This is a statistic that Brussow - and the rest of the Cheetahs XV - will once again need to be mindful of, with Bulls pivot Morne Steyn back in the groove.
At Loftus, the Cheetahs only gave away five penalties, four of which were turned into three-pointers. Not a bad effort, and one they will need to repeat.
For all the talk of Steyn, the Bulls are not a one-trick pony though, they have played with much more attacking guile this season, with the midfield pairing of Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht particularly impressive.
<b>Prediction:</b> The Bulls may have managed to see off the Sharks with Steyn's boot in a dire encounter in Durban, but they'll need to be crossing the whitewash this week if they're to keep on winning. <b>Bulls by five!</b>
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<b>Cheetahs:</b> 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.<br><b>Replacements:</b> 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Ligtoring Landman, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Riaan Smit, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
<b>Bulls:</b> 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.<br><b>Replacements:</b> 16 Callie Visagie , 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Zane Kirchner.
<b>Date:</b> Saturday June 1<br><b>Venue:</b> Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein<br><b>Kick-off:</b> 19.10 (17.10 GMT)<br><b>Referee:</b> Jason Jaftha<br><b>Assistant referees:</b> Jaco Peyper, Francois de Bruin<br><b>Television match official:</b> Gerrie Coetzee