Cape Town - English club Saracens are eyeing a hat-trick of wins over South African provincial opposition when they tackle the Bulls in a friendly clash in London on Saturday.
Saracens, a club with a strong South African flavour, defeated the Sharks 23-15 in January last year and also humbled Currie Cup champions Western Province 46-22 in November 2014.
They also famously beat the Springboks 24-23 in a midweek match on the Boks’ 2009 year-end tour.
This weekend they face a Bulls team gearing up for Super Rugby and a win for the Aviva Premiership side would only increase their credibility as an emerging powerhouse of Northern Hemisphere rugby.
Saracens, who were runners up in last year’s European Cup (6-23 v Toulon) as well as in the Premiership (20-24 v Northampton Saints), currently occupy third spot on the English league table, trailing Bath and the defending champion Saints.
Their season is in full swing and they’ll be stern opposition for Frans Ludeke’s charges, who last week played their first game in a while, beating the Cheetahs 30-13 Polokwane.
Ludeke earlier this week admitted there will be a step up in intensity this coming weekend and warned his players to be ready for the duel.
He picked returning Springboks Pierre Spies, Handre Pollard and Marcel van der Merwe on the bench for Saturday's clash at Allianz Park.
Spies missed most of the 2014 season with a bicep injury while Pollard and Van der Merwe have recovered from foot and knee injuries respectively.
With Spies starting on the bench, Deon Stegmann has been handed the captain’s armband for the match, while another former captain, Victor Matfield, has travelled with the team as part of the coaching team and not as a player. He will be used sparingly during the upcoming Super Rugby season.
At the time of writing, Saracens were yet to name their bench for the match but they included three South Africans in their starting team - scrumhalf Neil de Kock, No 8 Ernst Joubert and prop Petrus du Plessis.
Allianz Park has an artificial playing surface which allows teams to play a more expansive game in the often treacherous northern hemisphere conditions.
It will be interesting to see what game plan the Bulls employ on the surface, especially after promising more enterprise with ball in hand than what they displayed in 2014, when the team looked pretty average on attack at times.
The Bulls start their Super Rugby campaign at home to the Stormers on February 14.
Saturday's match will be broadcast live in the United Kingdom and in South Africa, with an estimated television audience of 450 000.
Kick-off is scheduled for 17:15 (SA time).
15 Ben Ransom, 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Chris Wyles, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Kelly Brown (captain), 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Valetin Poparlan, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Brett Sharman, 1 Richard Barrington.
15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann (captain), 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Substitutes (from): Jesse Kriel, William Small-Smith, Handre Pollard, Piet van Zyl, Pierre Spies, Roelof Smit, RG Snyman, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Morne Mellet, Marcel van der Merwe, Jaco Visagie, Duncan Matthews