The Bulls have the firepower in the backs to lay waste to the Cheetahs defence in Pretoria this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
You have to feel for Warrick Gelant. After making such an impressive start to the 2016 Super Rugby tournament, the Bulls fullback has been sidelined for six weeks with a jaw injury.
Fortunately for the Bulls, they have a fine replacement in Jesse Kriel. The Springbok will line up at No 15 when the Bulls host the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld this weekend.
Indeed, it's a backline that's loaded with attacking potential. Scrumhalf Rudy Paige is one of South Africa's finest tacticians at present. Tiaan Schoeman looks a good prospect at No 10, and Burger Odendaal and Jan Serfontein form an exciting partnership in midfield. In wingers Jamba Ulengo and Travis Ismaiel, the Bulls have two strong finishers.
The Cheetahs have lost four of their first five games. The most disappointing aspect of their play has been their defence.
After five rounds, the Cheetahs have conceded 149 points and 18 tries. Only the Force and the Sunwolves have conceded more points and tries.
The Bulls should be aiming for a try-scoring bonus point this Saturday. They certainly have the players in the back division to score tries.
Of course, they will need to lay the platform up front before unleashing the men out wide. They will need to match the Cheetahs at the set pieces and the breakdowns. While the Cheetahs lost to the Brumbies last week, they performed well in these areas.
It will be interesting to see what kind of game plan the Bulls employ from the outset. A looser approach may play into the Cheetahs' hands.
The match is an important one in the context of the Africa 1 conference. The Stormers currently top the conference with 18 points. The Bulls are second with 10 points, and the Cheetahs third with six.
The Stormers will enjoy a bye this weekend, and so won't add to their tally. A bonus-point win for the Bulls this Saturday will see the Pretoria-based side trailing the Stormers by just three log points at the end of the fifth round.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 13, Cheetahs 3
In Pretoria: Bulls 6, Cheetahs 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Bulls have won 13 of their last 15 matches against the Cheetahs, though the Cheetahs will be on the hunt for consecutive wins against the Bulls for the first time after a 42-29 win in their last encounter.
– The 16 matches between these sides have seen 56 points scored per game on average.
– The Bulls have conceded only nine points in the opening halves of their two home matches this season.
– The Bulls have conceded only one of their 11 tries in the first half of games this season, the fewest of any team in the competition; the Cheetahs have conceded the joint most in that time (12).
– Francois Uys has won 27 lineouts so far this season, the third most of any player in the competition, while he’s stolen two more in the process.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Bulls||Francois Brummer (32)||Bjorn Basson (3)||Warrick Gelant (373)||Jannes Kirsten (33)|
|Cheetahs||Niel Marais (40)||Sergeal Petersen, Uzair Cassiem, Francois Venter, Niel Marais (2)||Francois Venter (252)||Paul Schoeman (43)|
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha/Nic de Jager, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 SP Marais.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Hilton Lobberts, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
Waratahs vs Rebels (to come)
Photo: Shaun Roy/Gallo Images