The Vodacom Bulls will continue their Australasian tour with a tricky encounter against the Highlanders in Dunedin - a venue where they have not won since 2007.
It’s been seven long years since the Vodacom Bulls last tasted victory over the Highlanders in New Zealand – something the three-time champions form Pretoria would want to change on Friday morning (SA time).
However, it won’t be easy. Coupled with the fact that they normally struggle during the second match on their Australasian tours (they’ve won only three second tour matches since 1998), the team based at Loftus Versfeld find the Highlanders their toughest Kiwi opponents.
The Vodacom Bulls have beaten the Highlanders only five times since the franchise started in 1998, which is their lowest number of victories against any New Zealand side – they’ve beaten the Blues, Chiefs and Crusaders seven times each and the Hurricanes eight times.
The last time the Vodacom Bulls beat the Highlanders away was in 2007, the year in which they won Vodacom Super Rugby for the very first time. But since then, it’s gone downhill and the team from Otago won this corresponding fixture in 2012 by 16-11.
It shouldn’t be all doom and gloom for Flip van der Merwe’s team though – in the last decade, South African teams have done generally well in Dunedin, winning eight out of 17 matches deep down south.
Vodacom Bulls prop Werner Kruger will become the 26th South African Vodacom Super Rugby centurion in Dunedin.
Kruger, who made his debut in the opening round in 2008 against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town, has gone on to anchor the Vodacom Bulls’ scrum in two championship winning campaigns and play four Tests for the Springboks.
He played in 99 of the Vodacom Bulls’ last 100 matches – 40 and then 59 consecutively – only missing out in 2010 when the Pretorians went to Cape Town with a so-called “B-team”.
Kruger is a very good scrummager and someone who is never shy to do the donkey work on the field. He will become only the fifth SA front ranker to reach 100 appearances at this level, following in the footsteps of John Smit, Jannie and Bismarck du Plessis and Ollie le Roux.
The teams are:
Highlanders: Ben Smith (captain), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Shaun Treeby, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, Shane Christie, Gareth Evans, Joe Wheeler, Brad Thorn, Chris King, Liam Coltman, Kane Hames. Replacements: Ged Robinson, Craig Millar, Ma'afu Fia, Jarrad Hoeata, John Hardie, Fumiaki Tanaka, Trent Renata, Nasi Manu.
Vodacom Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Piet van Zyl, Grant Hattingh, Jacques du Plessis, Jono Ross, Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe (captain), Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Marcel van der Merwe, Morne Mellett, Paul Willemse, Jacques Engelbrecht, William Small-Smith, Handré Pollard, Ulrich Beyers.
Head to head (since 1998)
Vodacom Bulls won 5, lost 10 (one draw)
Points for Vodacom Bulls 382, against 478 for Highlanders
Tries: Bulls 43, Highlanders 57
Average score: 30-24 (Highlanders)
Kick-off: 09h35 (SA Time)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Issued by SARU Corporate Affairs