The Bulls must keep up the pressure on the Stormers by claiming a bonus-point win over the Kings in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
With both the Stormers and Bulls having played five games this season, it's the Cape-based side that currently enjoys a handy four-point lead at the top of the Africa 1 group. The Cheetahs and Sunwolves certainly look unlikely to compete for supremacy in this conference, which already appears to be a two-horse race between the north-south rivals.
The Stormers should be expected to extend their advantage by claiming a full haul of log points against the Sunwolves on Friday night, and then it will be over to the Bulls to ensure they do the business against a plucky Kings side that is gradually emerging as increasingly competitive opponents.
The Bulls have hardly made the most convincing start to this season, but the fact remains that they have not lost since the opening round. Besides a big win over the Rebels, they drew against the Sharks, and then scrapped their way to victories over the Sunwolves and Cheetahs.
Their rather favourable schedule now sees them turn their attention to the Kings before they host the Reds the week before a bye. These are all encounters the Bulls should be expected to win, but there is certainly a need for them to pursue more than just a winning result.
The Bulls have yet to put together a full 80-minute performance this season, having tended to play well for periods before falling off the pace at crucial times in the second half. Captain Adriaan Strauss acknowledged this week that they were seeking improved execution as they look to finally deliver a clinical all-round performance.
The Bulls' resolve will again be tested after Burger Odendaal became the latest injury casualty, but they really should have little trouble in overcoming the Kings. Although the Port Elizabeth-based side displayed plenty of character and courage to clinch a narrow win over the Sunwolves last weekend, it would take an extraordinary effort for them to secure back-to-back wins for the first time in their Super Rugby history.
At the end of the day, the Bulls' set-piece proficiency and well-honed kicking game should serve as the blueprint for success against a Kings side that has plenty of fighting spirit, but still possesses some fundamental frailties, particularly on defence.
A key area in this game will certainly be the breakdown, where the Kings have enjoyed impressive success as a result of their dual fetching threat posed by flankers Chris Cloete and CJ Velleman (who will play off the bench), but if the Bulls can secure quick, clean ball, they should run away with a bonus-point win to keep up the heat on the Stormers.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 2, Kings 0
In PE: Bulls 1, Kings 0
– The Kings earned their first victory of 2016 against the Sunwolves in round five and will now be looking to snare consecutive wins for the first time in their Super Rugby history.
– The Bulls are undefeated in their last four matches. The last time they went longer without a loss was in 2013 when they managed a run of nine straight wins.
– The Kings have the lowest tackle success rate in Super Rugby so far this season (79%), with Stefan Watermeyer individually missing more than any other player (15).
– Warrick Gelant has made an average gain of 8.9m so far this season, the most of any player who’s had more than 40 carries.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Kings||Louis Fouché (51)||Edgard Marutlulle (3)||Shane Gates (232)||CJ Velleman (60)|
|Bulls||Francois Brummer (32)||Bjorn Basson (3)||Warrick Gelant (373)||Jannes Kirsten (44)|
Kings – 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Luzuko Vulindlu, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Louis Fouche, 9 James Hall, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 JC Astle, 4 Steven Sykes (c), 3 Tom Botha, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Martin Ferreira, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Justin Ackerman, 19 Schalk Oelofse, 20 CJ Velleman, 21 Ntando Kebe, 22 Leighton Eksteen / JP du Plessis, 23 Jaco van Tonder.
Bulls – 15 SP Marais, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Dan Kriel.
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images