The Vodacom Bulls need to rediscover their ruthless streak, starting with a bonus-point victory over the Reds at Loftus on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The Bulls were once the most feared side in southern hemisphere franchise rugby. To face the Bulls in the cauldron that was Loftus Versfeld, was to know what it felt like to be in the midst of a stampede.
At their peak, the Bulls, backed by their vociferous home support, were almost unplayable. The Reds experienced this first-hand during a 92-3 demolition in 2007, while the Bulls' 61-17 victory over the Chiefs in the 2009 Super Rugby final remains one of their most complete performances to date.
The Bulls remain a strong side on their home turf, and have lost just twice at Loftus since the start of last season. However, the intimidation factor has gone, along with the crowd attendances.
Earlier this season, the Stormers waltzed away with four log points after dominating the Bulls up front, while the Force were deserving of more than a losing bonus point a fortnight ago. Such results were unthinkable at the turn of the decade.
With the top four teams in the South African conference separated by just two log points, taking advantage of matches against weaker opposition takes on an added importance.
The Reds have been diabolical this season, stumbling from one limp performance to the next. They have managed just 50 points in their last five matches, while their defence has been as woeful as their impotent attack.
The Bulls may be without Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein, Adriaan Strauss and Victor Matfield for Saturday's match, but they should still have enough to beat the Reds with something to spare.
The Reds travel to South Africa without Quade Cooper and on the back of five consecutive defeats. Karmichael Hunt has been handed a start at No 15, while the inclusion of Rob Simmons in the second row will be a massive boost for the Queenslanders.
The Bulls are currently on a five match-winning streak at Loftus against the Reds, and ran in eight tries when the sides last met in Pretoria in 2012.
A similar statement is required if the Bulls are to shake off the perception that they are nothing more than play-off hopefuls, especially ahead of next weekend's big local derby against the struggling Sharks.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 7, Reds 11
At Loftus: Bulls 6, Reds 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Bulls have lost just twice at home since the start of last year (won 10, drawn one).
– The Reds have won three of the last four meetings between the sides.
– The Queensland side have lost their last five away to the Bulls including their heaviest Super Rugby loss of all-time, and the Bulls’ largest win (92-3, May 2007).
– The Bulls scored 61 points in their last home meeting with the Reds and in a run of five consecutive home victories over the Queenslanders, they have mustered 257 points; an average of over 51 per game.
– Conversely, the Reds have scored just 50 points in their last five games combined, all of which ended in defeat.
– Opponents of the Bulls maintain a better scrum success rate (95%) than against any other team.
– Opponents of the Reds average a 76.9% ball retention rate at scrum time, while only the Stormers (73.9%) and Chiefs (76.7%) have forced their opponents into losing possession more often
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Bulls||Handré Pollard (108)||Deon Stegmann, Francois Hougaard, Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein (2)||Jesse Kriel (575)||Lappies Labuschagne (74)|
|Reds||Lachlan Turner (13)||Jake Schatz (2)||Lachlan Turner (316)||Adam Thompson (77)|
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jurgen Visser.
Reds – 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Nick Frisby, 9 Will Genia, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Dave McDuling, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Marco Kotze, 20 Tom Murday, 21 Adam Korczyk, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Chris Kuridrani.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images