Adriaan Strauss returns to his old stomping ground on Saturday still looking to discover his best form at the Vodacom Bulls, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Strauss's return to Pretoria during the off-season was the right one, for the franchise and the player. The Cheetahs are a good many things, but due to their geographical location and financial situation, they are not Super Rugby title-contenders.
The Bulls, on paper at least, are. Strauss, along with his Springbok teammate Trevor Nyakane, will be able to add value to the Bulls over the next few seasons.
Their absence was expected to hit the Cheetahs hard, but as they have done before, they have managed to cope well with the loss of key personnel.
Coenie Oosthuizen seems to be rediscovering his best form, while against the Blues they proved they have lost none of their game-breaking abilities. Their defence is more the class of 2013 than the side that finished last season at the foot of the South African conference and in Joe Pietersen, they have a flyhalf capable of managing the game.
The Cheetahs have made three changes ahead of this weekend's match. Willie Britz is replaced at No 8 by Jean Cook, with Boom Prinsloo starting at openside flank, while former Sharks and Kings lock Steven Sykes comes onto the bench.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have made just one change to their squad, with another former Cheetah, Piet van Zyl, slotting in on the replacements bench.
The Bulls were much-improved against the Sharks, but they'll need to lift their intensity once again if they're to match the Cheetahs. Their scrum frailties will likely come under closer scrutiny, and it will be interesting to see how Strauss and Nyakane front up to players considered inferior during their stay in Bloemfontein.
Matches between these two have tended to be close-run affairs in recent times, and Saturday's match at the Free State Stadium should prove no different.
A big individual performance could decide the outcome, and on a ground where he has done so many times before, Strauss will look to be the difference.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Cheetahs 2, Bulls 12
In Bloemfontein: Cheetahs 1, Bulls 6
STATS AND FACTS
– Willie le Roux has assisted at least two more tries (five) than any other player this season, despite playing only two matches so far.
– The Cheetahs have scored 60 points in two outings, despite an average of just 10 minutes 26 seconds in possession of the ball. No other side has averaged less than 13 minutes.
– The Bulls are yet to cause their opponents to lose a scrum after three outings this season, failing to win the ball on any of the 18 feeds they have faced.
– The Bulls have won 12 of the last 13 contests between the sides, however their last three wins have been by margins of fewer than seven points.
– The Cheetahs’ sole victory in this run, in round two last year, produced fewer points in total (15-9) than any other fixture between these rivals.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Cheetahs||Joe Pietersen (23)||Cornal Hendricks (2)||Sarel Pretorius (101)||Coenie Oosthuizen (25)|
|Bulls||Handré Pollard (43)||Deon Stegmann (2)||Jesse Kriel (195)||Lappies Labuschagne (52)|
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Jean Cook, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Minnie.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 BG Uys, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Boom Prinsloo, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Johann Sadie.
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Mornè Mellett.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Piet van Zyl, 23 Jürgen Visser.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images