Pretoria - The Bulls host the Cheetahs in what is shaping up to be a humdinger of a South African derby in Round 6 of Super Rugby on Saturday (19:15 kick-off).
"We are battling to put together 80 minutes of rugby at a time,” Bulls coach Nollis Marais said earlier in the week.
“We need to sustain our first half effort and the players are very aware of that.”
And right he is, as ten of the eleven tries the Bulls have conceded have come in the second half. This fact is not lost on talismanic captain Adriaan Strauss either, who is expecting more from his charges on Saturday in front of the fired-up Loftus faithful.
"This is one of their big matches of the year and if we cannot repel their enthusiasm and commitment by producing our own 80 minute effort, we will be in trouble,” said Strauss.
Both teams have shown a willingness to run with the ball so far this season, perhaps the Cheetahs more so than the Bulls. However, the former have been let down by a whopping 94 handling errors, the most of any team in 2016.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t end there for the Cheetahs, as the forward pack has been under severe pressure at scrum time. The loss of Coenie Oosthuizen to the Sharks has clearly hurt the Bloemfontein-based franchise, who have the worst scrum success rate in the competition at 68 percent.
That - and the fact the Cheetahs also have the most missed tackles - certainly plays nicely into the Bulls' hands as they will look to dominate up front before sending the ball wide to a dangerous backline.
Lineouts will be another key factor and the Cheetahs have a trump card in the form of Francios Uys, who has won 27 lineouts so far, third most in the competition. However, the Bulls are no slouch in this department, as their 91 percent success rate at lineout time is also ranked third.
The last time the teams met: The Cheetahs came out on top after a high scoring affair in Round 18 of the 2015 competition. The crowd in Pretoria witnessed nine tries, with Ryno Benjamin sealing the deal with a late try, while Niel Marais kicked six from six off the tee.
Players to watch: Like any good Bulls performance, much depends on the flyhalf and Tiaan Schoeman is coming off a 15-point haul from last week. Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss may feel a touch of nostalgia taking on his old team-mates, but his good form and captaincy has been key to the Bulls’ success.
Should the game open up, the likes of Sergeal Petersen could punish the Bulls. The wing has been in good touch in 2016, having beaten 11 defenders and made seven clean breaks. Cheetahs fans have been waiting all season for Springbok Lood de Jager to shine and we believe this South African derby might just bring the best out of him.
Team news: Jesse Kriel will start at fullback in place of the injured Warrick Gelant. Travis Ismaiel returns to the starting team as right wing, with Jamba Ulengo replacing injured Bjorn Basson on the left. Jan Serfontein will return to the midfield to link up with Burger Odendaal. His place on the bench will be taken by SP Marais. The former Southern Kings and Sharks player could debut for the Bulls if he runs on, as well as substitute scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl.
For the Cheetahs, there is just one change to the side that lost to the Brumbies. Nico Lee makes his debut at inside centre in the place of Joubert Engelbrecht, who injured his arm last week.
Form: After slow start to the season, the Bulls have picked up some momentum with wins over the Rebels, a fortunate draw against the Sharks and a narrow three-point win over the Sunwolves in Singapore last weekend.
Meanwhile, the Cheetahs have struggled to get out of first gear in the competition, earning their solitary win over a weak Sunwolves side in round three and have since lost away to the Lions and at home to the Brumbies.
2015: Cheetahs won 42-29 in Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 39-20 in Bloemfontein
2014: Bulls won 26-21 in Pretoria
2014: Cheetahs won 15-9 in Bloemfontein
2013: Bulls won 30-25 in Bloemfontein
2013: Bulls won 26-20 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 40-24 in Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 51-19 in Bloemfontein
15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha/Nic de Jager, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Substitutes: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 SP Marais
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Segeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Johan Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Hilton Lobberts, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga