• WP, Bulls set for back-three battle

    The firepower boasted in the Vodacom Blue Bulls and Western Province back three should make for an enthralling battle in Friday’s semi-final, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

    With a knockout fixture comes the possibility of a more measured approach and greater emphasis on the kicking game at Loftus, but there is no doubt both teams still offer exciting attacking threats.

    In fullback Warrick Gelant and winger Jamba Ulengo, the Bulls have young bright lights having made their mark on the Currie Cup scene this season, while Province have welcomed back Cheslin Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla in a reshuffled back three for this clash.

    Kolbe and Senatla return from injuries, while Dillyn Leyds comes onto the right wing, with WP having plenty of pace to burn. However, Province coach John Dobson said he also felt this combination would be best suited to fit into their defensive patterns, and in managing the high balls.

    As has been widely acknowledged throughout the league stage, the Bulls have added an exciting new dimension to their play during this domestic campaign, and they boast a very real threat on the counter-attack.

    The likes of Gelant, Ulengo and Travis Ismaiel are all key to that, so WP will need to ensure their exit play is on point, while also maintaining cohesion and intensity in their chase lines.

    Just four log points separated these two sides at the end of the league phase, but WP won’t have quickly forgotten the second-half blow-out in their pool fixture at Loftus, with none other than Gelant, Ulengo and Ismaiel orchestrating an incredible late surge.

    Make no mistake, that display back in August will have been firmly deposited in the memory bank, and there is no doubt WP will have some tricks up their sleeve in order to ensure they nullify the Bulls’ counter-attacking threat.

    An interesting subplot to this match has also been the late refereeing change, with Pro Legoete replacing Marius van der Westhuizen, who had to withdraw due to an ankle injury.

    Both teams will need to particularly adjust to Legoete’s interpretations at scrum-time, and the set-piece battle (look out for Marcel van der Merwe going up against Steven Kitshoff) should also be an intriguing element to Friday’s clash.

    The Bulls, playing at home, should quite rightly be considered favourites, but both teams have enough game-breakers to change the status quo in the blink of an eye. It will make for what is sure to be a thrilling encounter.

    STATS THAT MATTER
    819 – Metres run by Gelant this season
    11 – Tries scored by Ulengo
    6 – Defenders beaten by Ismaiel
    6 – Clean breaks by Kolbe
    6 – Tries scored by Leyds
    3 – Try assists by Senatla

    Blue Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (c), 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Pierre Schoeman.

    Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 William Small-Smith.

    Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (c) 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
    Subs: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Chris van Zyl, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Huw Jones.

    Referee: Pro Legoete
    Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Quinton Immelman
    TMO: Christie du Preez

    Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images

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    Craig Lewis