Lappies Labuschagne and his forwards will need to front for the Bulls to beat the Force and secure their first win in Australia since 2012, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Force are coming off a 49-13 defeat to the Waratahs. They have copped some heavy beatings in 2016, and have managed just one victory (against the Reds) in this year's campaign.
And yet they are not to be underestimated. In years gone by, they have pushed some of the traditionally stronger teams close. They have even claimed a few prize scalps. In 2015, they beat the Waratahs twice.
The Force rely on their pack and their defence to do the bulk of the damage. When their forwards gain the ascendancy and the likes of Matt Hodgson are allowed free reign at the breakdown, they can be a handful.
The Bulls need to meet that forward challenge head-on this Friday. They have to deal with the challenge at scrum time and use their lineout to good effect. Late replacement Marvin Orie will have a key role to play in the latter set piece.
The battle at the breakdown will determine the flow of the contest. The Bulls will want quick ball. They will want to provide their talented centre combination as well as the gifted men out wide with a steady supply of front-foot ball.
Labuschagne and his fellow loose forwards will have an important job to do at the rucks. The Bulls have to clear Hodgson and company away from the breakdowns. They can't allow the Force to spoil and stifle the flow of their attack.
The Bulls may look to test the Force with a series of long kicks in the first half. They may encourage the Force to run back at them. The men from Perth have scored nine tries in eight matches this season. No team has scored fewer tries in 2016.
The Bulls won't be wanting for motivation. They will be looking to break an 11-match losing streak in Australasia. They will also be searching for their first win in Australia since 2012.
In the context of their log position, the Bulls will be desperate to strengthen their claim for a place in the top three (the top three teams on the South African group log at the end of the conference stage will qualify for the playoffs). As it stands, the Sharks are just one log point behind the Bulls on the South African group log.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 5, Force 4
In Perth: Force 2, Bulls 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Bulls have won four of their last six matches against the Force and have never lost to the Western Australian team by more than six points.
– In none of their last eight matches at home against South African opposition have the Force conceded more than 10 points in the opening half of a game.
– The Bulls have won their last four matches in a row, a fifth straight win would be their longest streak since a run of nine wins saw them reach the 2013 playoffs.
– The Force have the most accurate goal-kicking of any team in the competition at 94%, more than 20% accurate than the Bulls (73%).
– The Bulls have conceded only seven clean breaks per game so far this season, the fewest of any team, while the Force have conceded more than double (14.8), the most of any team.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Force||Peter Grant (43)||Ben Tapuai, Luke Morahan (2)||Dane Haylett-Petty (564)||Matt Hodgson (109)|
|Bulls||Francois Brummer (50)||Jamba Ulengo (4)||Warrick Gelant (373)||Jannes Kirsten (66)|
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ammon Mautauto, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Luke Morohan, 10 Ian Prior, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Harry Scoble, 1 Francois van Wyk.
Subs: 16 Chris Heiberg, 17 Anaru Rangi, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Kyle Godwin, 23 Semisi Masirewa.
Bulls – 15 SP Marais, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Lizo Gqoboko, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffman (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
The Money Man's betting tips (to come)
Photo: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images