Any hope that the Vodacom Bulls would bring some continuity and momentum into this Vodacom Super Rugby game against the Toyota Cheetahs was dealt cruel blow when Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard injured his ankle at training on Thursday.
Pollard will be sidelined for about 10 weeks.
Both coaches spoke of the importance of winning - as they sit outside the top 10 (the Vodacom Bulls 11th on 10 points and the Cheetahs 14th on nine points) with just two wins each, reports rugby365.com
One of the Cheetahs’ victories were over the Bulls in Round Two.
“It is a very, very important match for us,” Bulls coach Nollis Marais said.
“We need to keep on building from last weekend, not only on improving on the good things we did, but also to make sure that winning feeling becomes an addictive one.
“We need to prove that the win over the Jaguares was the tipping point for us.
“We always believed we were a better team than the results showed, but we now have another opportunity to go out and prove it.”
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith said he expects a “very physical” encounter with the Bulls - who have “big players” and a host of Springboks.
“They are very motivated at the moment [after a poor start to the season],” Smith said, adding: “The set pieces will be crucial.
“The Bulls have the tallest line-out players [in the competition]. Their scrum is also solid.
“We saw how the media wrote about the performance of [Springbok prop] Trevor [Nyakane].
“The other key is for us to match their physicality.
“They are a team that carries the ball towards you and dominate you physically, so we will have to be at our best in that aspect.”
Vodacom Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss is also not expecting any favours from the Cheetahs, whom he represented 97 times in Super Rugby.
“This will be a massive game,” Strauss said.
“They have the belief that they can beat us and to be honest, have the players to do that if we don’t pitch.
“Any South African derby match is huge, and I know how much it means for them to beat the Bulls.”
2017: Cheetahs won 34-28, Bloemfontein
2016: Bulls won 43-17, Bloemfontein
2016: Bulls won 23-18, Pretoria
2015: Cheetahs won 42-29, Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 39-20, Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Cheetahs won the last meeting between these sides but have never won back-to-back matches against the Pretoria side. The Bulls have won seven of their last eight at home to the Cheetahs, although five of those seven victories came by single figure margins.
- The Cheetahs have lost their last nine away games, including their last five away to South African opposition.
- The Cheetahs have averaged more carries per game than any other side this season (130) and have kicked from hand less often than any other team (15.3 per game).
Bulls’ pair Jamba Ulengo and Travis Ismaiel have played every minute for their side this season, no other side has more than two players to play every possible minute this season. In Pretoria the smart money will be on the Bulls, but it is unlikely to be by more than seven points.
Vodacom Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Jacques Potgieter, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Franco Naude.
Toyota Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Uzair Cassiem, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)