Pretoria - This weekend’s Super Rugby match between the Bulls and the Cheetahs might be billed as a battle for conference supremacy, but the Pretoria outfit will not by swayed by the hype.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke admitted on Wednesday, however, that the Bloemfontein match would be an important encounter for both sides ahead of the June international break.
“It is a vital game for both sides. They are playing at home and we just want to focus on what we need to do on the weekend to be successful,” Ludeke said.
The Bulls occupy top spot in the South African conference, five points ahead of the Cheetahs.
While the Bloemfontein side have never won a Super Rugby match against the Bulls, they have never before experienced a season like this one.
The Bulls were the victors in the two sides’ previous match at Loftus Versfeld, but Ludeke was quick to point out that both teams had shown immense improvement since they last met in April.
“Both teams are playing better so it will be more of a pressure situation game. Small things will make a difference,” Ludeke said.
“It will be vital that we are accurate at the set-piece, have quality possession and play in the right areas.
“The Cheetahs kick the most of all the sides in the competition and their defence squeeze turnovers - that is why 20 of their 32 tries were from turnovers.
"That is also the way we play and we foresee an arm wrestle.”
Ludeke said matches between the two teams had traditionally been physically draining and he expected much of the same this weekend.
While history favoured the Bulls, Ludeke felt it was not a true reflection on how easily their clashes could have swung the other way.
“It is always a tough tussle in the set-pieces and the maul, and on the gain line there are huge battles, and it is the small things that gave us the result in previous games,” he said.
“The last game here (in Pretoria) they were leading 9-6 at half-time, so it was close to the end and we had to work hard to keep them out."
Meanwhile, Ludeke made four changes to his side that beat the Sharks 18-16 in Durban last week.
Arno Botha, Jan Serfontein, Werner Kruger and Lionel Mapoe have all been included in the starting XV after they spent time on the bench. They replace Dewald Potgieter, Wynand Olivier, Frik Kirsten and Akona Ndungane respectively.
Potgieter and Kirsten will play off the bench, while Olivier drops out of the match day 22.
The Bulls have been buoyed by the return of Zane Kirchner from injury and he should play off the bench.
15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Johann
Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Piet van
Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5
Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan
Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Substitutes: 16 Ryno
Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Ligtoring Landman, 19 Boom Prinsloo, 20
Sarel Pretorius, 21 Riaan Smit, 22 Rayno Benjamin
Jürgen Visser, 14. Lionel Mapoe, 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 12. Jan Serfontein, 11.
Bjorn Basson, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Pierre Spies (captain),
7. Arno Botha, 6. Deon Stegmann, 5. Juandré Kruger, 4. Flip van der Merwe, 3.
Werner Kruger, 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1. Dean Greyling
16. Callie Visagie, 17. Frik Kirsten, 18. Grant Hattingh, 19. Dewald Potgieter,
20. Jano Vermaak, 21. Louis Fouché, 22. Zane Kirchner