The Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks will face off for the second time this season in the only South African derby during round six of Vodacom Super Rugby.
These two sides met in the opening round, with the KwaZulu-Natalians crushing their opponents from up north by 33-16 in Durban. The Pretorians have since hit their straps and all indications are that Saturday evening’s clash at Loftus Versfeld will be huge.
Springbok stalwart JP Pietersen will reach the century mark in Vodacom Super Rugby to make him the third South African player this season to reach this milestone, behind Akona Ndungane and Jean de Villiers, and 24th overall.
Pietersen, at 27 years and 253 days on Saturday, will become the youngest South African to reach this milestone, surpassing Morné Steyn (27 years and 312 days), Pierre Spies (27:344) and Meyer Bosman (27:351).
Pietersen made his debut at this level at fullback for the Cell C Sharks, against the Chiefs on 11 February 2006 and his first game at wing was in the opening round of the 2007 season against the Vodacom Bulls in Durban, where he also scored his second Vodacom Super Rugby try.
Pietersen started every match that season in the No 11 jersey for the Cell C Sharks and scored 12 tries, including one in the final, which they lost to the team from Pretoria at Growthpoint Kings Park.
The Vodacom Bulls might have scored four tries in their last match, almost a fortnight ago against the Blues, but this weekend it won’t be as easy when they host the table-topping Sharks.
The men from Durban, one of only two unbeaten sides left this season, have conceded fewer breaks (3.3) and missed fewer tackles (12) per game than any other side in Vodacom Super Rugby.
Considering that the Vodacom Bulls average the fewest metres gained per game this season, at 302m per match, the home team’s attacking play will be under the spotlight this weekend. But they also restrict their opponents in terms of metres gained at only 303m.
Whichever way you choose to look at it, this promises to be a humdinger. Four of the last six encounters between the 2007 finalists have been settled by a margin of seven points or fewer, with each side picking up three wins apiece in those six games.
The Cell C Sharks’ big win in the opening round in Durban though will still be fresh in the memories of the Vodacom Bulls.
"We need to be accurate, focussed and dominate the breakdown," said Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.
For Jake White’s Cell C Sharks, their first away fixture of 2014 is massive.
“This is a huge game, it’s at Loftus and the Bulls have an unbelievable record at that stadium,” said White.
The teams are:
Vodacom Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Sampie Mastriet, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter, Jacques du Plessis, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield (captain), Paul Willemse, Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Morné Mellet, Marcel van der Merwe, Grant Hattingh, Jono Ross, Piet van Zyl, Handré Pollard, Ulrich Beyers.
Cell C Sharks: SP Marais, JP Pietersen, S’bura Sithole, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Stephan Lewies, Anton Bresler, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (captain), Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Ettienne Oosthuizen, Tera Mtembu, Charl McLeod, Tim Swiel, Andre Esterhuizen.
Head to head (since 1998)
Won: Vodacom Bulls 11, Cell C Sharks 9
Drawn: Vodacom Bulls 1, Cell C Sharks 1
Points for: Vodacom Bulls 381 Cell C Sharks 457
Tries scored: Vodacom Bulls 30, Cell C Sharks 49
Average score: Vodacom Bulls 18, Cell C Sharks 22
Kick-off SA Time: 19h10
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)