Jesse Kriel will help the Vodacom Bulls arrest their slide by orchestrating a victory over the Cheetahs in Pretoria on Saturday. RYAN VREDE reports.
The Bulls have returned from a dismal tour which ended in defeat to the lowly Rebels. However, they will take confidence from being back at Loftus, where they have haven't lost since their second-round defeat to the Hurricanes.
In recent history, the Bulls have played well when returning from tour. That said, they've more often than not been motivated by the incentive of a home semi-final or play-off spot. Their inconsistent campaign means neither they nor their opponents, the Cheetahs, will be involved at the tournament's business end but the Bulls will want to finish strongly in front of their disciples.
Kriel will be central to that happening, particularly in the absence of some of the Bulls' Springboks, who are being rested in accordance with the franchises' agreement with Saru.
The young fullback is just behind the Waratahs' Israel Folau and Highlanders' Waisake Naholo for metres made with ball in hand, and compares favourably with the tournament's best in terms of defenders beaten and clean breaks. He has also been a creative force, ranking ninth in try assists.
Kriel's potency will depend heavily on the quality of the attacking platform he gets from his forwards, and in this regard I don't see the Cheetahs blunting the Bulls' heavies. With the likes of Arno Botha and Adriaan Strauss leading the gainline charge against a weak defensive team, Kriel will have the time and space to engineer the Cheetahs' demise.
Furthermore, the Bulls are likely to pressure the Cheetahs into poor kick returns and Kriel has shown himself to be a skilled and dangerous broken-field runner.
From a personal point of view, Kriel will be determined to impress Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer. The rookie's name has been thrown around as a wild card selection for the World Cup squad and Meyer is known to think highly of the youngster.
In Bulls team news, Jan Serfontein, Handré Pollard, Deon Stegmann, Dean Greyling, Victor Matfield and Lappies Labuschagne will not feature due to injury or Saru's rest agreement.
Strauss runs on at hooker, Grant Hattingh takes over from Matfield in the second row and Botha is at openside flank. Jacques-Louis Potgieter stands in for Pollard at flyhalf and the impressive Burger Odendaal starts at inside centre.
The Loftus contest will be Willie le Roux's last for the Cheetahs before he moves to the Sharks. He starts at fullback with Coenie van Wyk dropping to the bench. Clayton Blommetjies replaces Cornal Hendricks, but the former will play on the right wing, with Sergeal Petersen shifting to the left. In the pack, Henco Venter will start at openside flank, while Oupa Mohoje plays from the wood.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 13, Cheetahs 2
In Pretoria: Bulls 6, Cheetahs 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Bulls have won their last five games at home, while the Cheetahs have lost five of their last six matches on the road.
– After losing their first ever Super Rugby home game against the Cheetahs, the Bulls have gone on to win all six at home to the Cheetahs since.
– The Bulls have averaged the fewest offloads per game this season (5.5), while the Cheetahs have made the third fewest (7.6).
– The Cheetahs have spent the least time in possession this season, averaging just 13 minutes on the ball per game.
– The Bulls have conceded the joint fewest tries in the final quarter of matches this season (six), while the Cheetahs have conceded the most (16).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Bulls||Handré Pollard (167)||Francois Hougaard, Jan Serfontein (5)||Jesse Kriel (1141)||Jacques du Plessis (150)|
|Cheetahs||Joe Pietersen (92)||Boom Prinsloo (8)||Francois Venter (550)||Boom Prinsloo (182)|
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Arno Botha, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Morné Mellett.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Roelof Smit, 20 Bjorn Basson, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Jurgen Visser, 23 Werner Kruger.
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Sergeal Petersen, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 BG Uys.
Subs: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 19 Seven Sykes, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Oupa Mohoje, 22 Renier Botha, 23 Coenie van Wyk.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images