Cape Town – Three-time Super Rugby champions the Bulls won’t
find that their pre-season campaign gets any easier when they tackle English
Premiership side Saracens at their Allianz Park, north London stronghold on
The game (kick-off 17:15 SA time) is due to be screened live
on SuperSport 1 and CSN, after the Loftus-based side played out a 30-13 win
minus the glare of television cameras against Super Rugby rivals the Cheetahs
in Polokwane on Saturday.
There are few better ways to get European-stationed
expatriate rugby players’ juices flowing than by pitting them against South
African-based compatriots, and it seems Sarries – currently third in the
Premiership behind Northampton and Bath – will be in a position to field
several against the presumably still rusty Bulls.
Various “Saffers” in the home team ranks appeared to come
through their latest match at the weekend, an uncompromising 18-6 away loss to
Clermont Auvergne, reasonably unscathed and despite the loss they have reached
the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup.
Five southern African-born players (if you throw in
tough-as-teak Namibian flanker Jacques Burger) were involved in that match,
either as starters or off the bench, and you can bet your last dollar they will
have a special desire to be in the mix again this weekend.
So apart from Burger, who ought to come up against at least
one Springbok on the side of the Bulls scrum in the form of fetcher Deon
Stegmann, the scene is set for some other potentially spicy, all-SA match-ups.
Sarries captain and beanpole lock Alistair Hargreaves
(ex-Sharks) may find that he is pitted against legendary lineout master Victor
Matfield, although the veteran will apparently get very limited (if any)
game-time as he is cotton-wooled instead for the needs of Super Rugby.
The Bulls have the
drawback in the second row already of Flip van der Merwe being ruled out for
the first few weeks, so will not take major chances in the quest to preserve
the good health of Matfield.
Fit-again Bulls captain Pierre Spies will get a good workout
if he encounters former Cats/Lions favourite Ernst Joubert in the No 8 berth
during the tussle – Joubert came off the “splinters” against Clermont in the 59th
minute as a replacement for Kelly Brown.
Behind the scrum, the midfield tussle may be highlighted by Bok
incumbent Jan Serfontein policing Durban-born England stalwart Brad Barritt,
whilst if the evergreen, 36-year-old Neil de Kock – last Bok cap against New
Zealand in 2003 – turns out at scrumhalf, he could be up against another more
current Test figure in Francois Hougaard.
The last-named player may be under pressure to nail down a
routine start for the Bulls this year; slippery substitute Piet van Zyl
reportedly played a major role in tilting the balance of the Cheetahs match
when introduced in the second half.
It seems the Bulls blew hot and cold – perhaps no surprise
in that, in late January – against the Cheetahs, so they will look to up their
performance level against Saracens, considering that their Super Rugby opener
is against arch-rivals the Stormers only a fortnight on from it.
They have a squad this year that looks capable of
challenging for a top-six finish and resultant playoffs ticket, although the
Sarries fixture ought to give their supporters a decent clue as to whether
coach Frans Ludeke is genuinely keen to evolve their oft-maligned game-plan in
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