The Bulls need a bonus-point win against the Sunwolves on Saturday to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
At the end of April, the Bulls were well on track for the Super Rugby quarter-finals. They were unbeaten in their last seven matches (six wins and a draw), a point behind Africa 1 conference leaders the Stormers, and occupied the third-place wildcard qualifier spot in the South African group, with the Sharks six points behind them.
Since then, though, the Bulls have lost four out of five matches, including a humiliating 56-20 hiding from the Lions at Loftus before the June break and a 29-11 defeat to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last Saturday.
The Bulls are now nine points behind the Stormers, who only need to win one of their remaining matches (against the Force and Kings) to claim the Africa 1 conference title. In the South African group, the Bulls are three points behind the third-placed Sharks, who occupy the wildcard playoff spot.
To reach the quarter-finals, the Bulls now need to beat the Sunwolves and Cheetahs over the next two weeks and hope the Sharks, who face the Cheetahs on Saturday night and the Sunwolves next weekend, slip up.
The Bulls had to work hard for a 30-27 win against the Sunwolves in Singapore back in March, but the Japanese franchise has struggled on the road and is coming off the back of a 57-12 defeat to the Waratahs in Tokyo.
The Bulls will be aiming for all five log points, which would put some pressure on the injury-hit Sharks going into their game against the Cheetahs.
The Bulls' scrum struggled against the Jaguares, and coach Nollis Marais has responded by starting Werner Kruger at tighthead prop ahead of Marcel van der Merwe for Saturday's match. Captain Adriaan Strauss, who was rested last weekend, is back at hooker in place of Bandise Maku, while Pierre Schoeman replaces the injured Lizo Gqoboko at loosehead. The loose trio has also been rejigged, with Renaldo Bothma at No 8, and Jannes Kirsten and Lappies Labuschagne on the flanks.
Among the backs, Jesse Kriel moves from outside centre to fullback, where he impressed for the Pretoria-based franchise last year, with Dries Swanepoel and Burger Odendaal in midfield, while Piet van Zyl comes in for Rudy Paige at scrumhalf.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 1, Sunwolves 0
In Pretoria: This is the teams' first meeting at Loftus
STATS AND FACTS
– This will be the second meeting between these two sides; the Bulls won the first clash 30-27 in round five.
– The Bulls suffered their second heaviest home defeat in their last such game, however they were unbeaten in five at home before that (won four, drew one).
– The Sunwolves are yet to win away from home (lost five), conceding over 30 points in each away game and an average of 54 per game on the road.
– The Sunwolves have conceded only six second-half penalty goals so far this campaign, only the Chiefs and Lions (five) have conceded fewer.
– Lappies Labuschagne has made 133 tackles, missing a further eight, which is the fifth most of any player in the competition and the most of any South African-based player.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Bulls||Francois Brummer (91)||Adriaan Strauss (5)||SP Marais (487)||Lappies Labuschagne (133)|
|Sunwolves||Tusi Pisi (105)||Akihito Yamada (9)||Riaan Viljoen (739)||Ed Quirk (126)|
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Nqoba Mxoli, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Hanro Liebenberg, 20 Grant Hattingh, 21 Arno Botha, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Tian Schoeman.
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Hajime Yamashita, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa (c),11 Yasutaka Sasakura,10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yuki Yatomi, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Taiyo Ando, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Naohiro Kotaki, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Futoshi Mori, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Faatiga Lemalu, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Mifiposeti Paea, 23 Shokei Kin.
Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Jaguares vs Highlanders (to come)
Photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP Photo