It is crunch time for the Vodacom Bulls in a match between the two most successful South African sides in Vodacom Super Rugby.
The three-time champion Vodacom Bulls host the Cell C Sharks, runner-up four times already at Loftus Versfeld.
Facts and Figures: Vodacom Bulls v Cell C Sharks
Date: Saturday, 28 February
SA Time: 17h05
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Ben Crouse (South Africa)
Television match officials: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
• Rudy Paige comes in at scrumhalf for his first start of the season for the Vodacom Bulls, for Piet van Zyl.
• The Vodacom Bulls’ bench shows three changes – Springbok prop Marcel van der Merwe is back from injury, while Travis Ismaiel and Tian Schoeman could make their Vodacom Super Rugby debut if they get game time.
• Dayan van der Westhuizen, Van Zyl and Jacques-Louis Potgieter are not in the match 23 this weekend.
• For the Cell C Sharks, the inclusion of Springbok No 8 Ryan Kankowski and Junior Springbok centre André Esterhuizen are the only changes to the starting team.
• They replace Tera Mtembu and Heimar Williams respectively, both of whom will miss the trip to Pretoria.
• On the Cell C Sharks’ bench, Bok prop Lourens Adriaanse is in line for their first appearance of the season, while outside back Jack Wilson could make his Vodacom Super Rugby debut, while Fred Zeilinga is bracketed with Lionel Cronjé.
• Four members of last year’s Junior Springbok team will be in action – Jesse Kriel and Handré Pollard for the home side, and André Esterhuizen and Thomas du Toit for the visitors.
• The Cell C Sharks have not won in Pretoria since Round 18 in 2011, when they beat the Vodacom Bulls 26-23. The Durbanites have won at Loftus Versfeld four times out of 11 visits, with one draw.
• The Vodacom Bulls are the only South African franchise that has a positive win / loss record over the Cell C Sharks, although they have never beaten the KwaZulu-Natalians by more than nine points.
Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke: “We have started poorly, no doubt and we have put ourselves under pressure, even if it is early in the competition. One cannot really afford to drop any home matches if you have serious title aspirations, so nothing but a win will suffice. We realise the Sharks are one of the best teams in the competition, but we owe it to ourselves and the supporters out there to play to our potential. If we do that, we will be competitive as our squad is certainly good enough.”
Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies: “We have lost to ourselves as much as our opponents so far. We need to eliminate the soft moments from our game and make sure we execute. It is going to be a tough battle, a typical local derby, but we are ready for this challenge.”
Cell C Sharks Assistant Coach Paul Anthony: “What is ideal is that we put in a better performance against the Lions after losing to the Cheetahs. We want our players to be accountable for how they perform. That game we lost, as with the Bulls against the Hurricanes, those were both literally millimetres away from victories. Without a doubt the players felt accountable after the Cheetahs loss. They knew that they weren’t on par, they were disappointed with themselves. But they all lifted their performances markedly and we’re hoping to lift it even more, game after game.”
The teams are:
Vodacom Bulls: Jesse Kriel, Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard, Handré Pollard, Rudy Paige, Pierre Spies (captain), Lappies Labuschagne, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield, Jacques du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Morné Mellett. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling, Marcel van der Merwe, Grant Hattingh, Hanro Liebenberg, Tian Schoeman, Travis Ismaiel, Jurgen Visser.
Cell C Sharks: SP Marais, Odwa Ndungane, Waylon Murray, André Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Renaldo Bothma, Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (captain), Dale Chadwick. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Thomas du Toit, Lourens Adriaanse, Marco Wentzel, Jean Deysel, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga / Lionel Cronjé, Jack Wilson.
Vodacom Bulls v Cell C Sharks (since 1998):
P 22 Vodacom Bulls won 12, Cell C Sharks won 9, one draw
Vodacom Bulls points scored: 404
Cell C Sharks points scored: 476
Vodacom Bulls tries scored: 32
Cell C Sharks tries scored: 50
Average score: 22-18 to the Cell C Sharks
(As supplied by SARU)