JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the big Vodacom Super Rugby game at Loftus Versfeld.
We've seen this movie before. Last season, it was the Southern Kings who defied expectations via their physical defence, as well as the cool goal-kicking of flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis. This year, the Lions have taken the Cinderella baton and run with it. Both of their victories have been down to the kicking exploits of No 10 Marnitz Boshoff, and the forwards have also made their presence felt at the collisions. But as was the case last year, there will come a time when the fairytale ends and the Lions are handed a harsh dose of reality.
The Bulls are struggling at the moment and recently lost their captain Pierre Spies to a long-term injury, but to paraphrase Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, one does not simply stroll into Loftus Versfeld and expect victory. The Lions troubled the Stormers at the tackle last week, and a similar performance against the Bulls could force an upset.
Where the hosts will have the edge is at the lineout, with Victor Matfield's leadership and individual ability sure to have the desired impact. The Bulls cannot afford to lose another match, and playing in the Pretoria cauldron, they must be favourites. Their goal-kicking has been poor in recent weeks, and their halfbacks have struggled, but don't discount Matfield's influence in the coming match. It will be ugly but ultimately it will be a win for the Bully Boys.
Prediction: Bulls by 3
The Lions have embarrassed my view that they would lose their first two encounters and done so in a manner that suggests their formula is replicable, certainly against sides of the Bulls' calibre. That is to say that the Bulls have been absolutely impotent to date, having been pummelled by the Sharks then blunted against the Cheetahs.
The talk this week from the Bulls camp has been one of desperation and determination, and this, I believe, will pull them through. In situations like this, defence becomes your weapon of choice and combining discipline with accuracy could see them triumph.
The Lions don't offer a particularly dynamic threat on attack, and blunting their forwards and limiting their territory may force them to rekindle their love affair with the cavalier surges that cost them so dearly in the past. The Bulls would probably stick by their kick-for-field-position strategy and with the experienced Jacques-Louis Potgieter at flyhalf, it'll probably pay off. Don't expect them to bank a bonus point here, but I suspect their pressure game will be too hot for the Lions to handle.
Prediction: Bulls by 5
Bulls – 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe (c), 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Lions – 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Courtnall Skosan, 23 Coenie van Wyk.
Photo: Barry Aldworth/Backpagepix