Preview: Bulls v Blues
Thursday, March 8, 2012 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
VENUE & TIME: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, Saturday March 10 @ 1910 local (Sunday 0610 NZDT)
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 16; Northern Transvaal / Bulls 5, Blues 10, drawn 1.
LAST TIME: April 3, 2010 (Auckland) - Blues 32-17 Bulls.
WALKING WOUNDED: Francois Hougaard copped a week off following his red card last week for a dangerous tackle, but little will be lost with Jano Vermaak behind the big pack. The Blues are without Jerome Kaino and Rudi Wulf for this short tour, as both suffered shoulder injuries against the Chiefs. Charlie Faumuina has recovered from a slight knee problem and will play, while Peter Saili and Hadleigh Parkes were the injury replacements. Ma'a Nonu is set to make his Blues debut on this trip after missing the first two matches. Isaia Toeava, Michael Hobbs and George Moala were all unable to be considered due to injuries.
Round 1: beat Sharks 18-13 (h)
Round 2: beat Cheetahs 51-19 (a)
Round 1: lost to Crusaders 18-19 (h)
Round 2: lost to Chiefs 14-29 (a)
The Bulls have jumped out to a good start and lead the table after two rounds; the first win over the Sharks was ugly but they played some good rugby on the way to putting a half-century on the Cheetahs. Some of the tries were classy, featuring quick ball movement, quick running and good knowledge of when to make a pass to put a support player away. Oh, yes, a chap named Steyn also kicked nine goals from ten chances and passed 1000 points in his career just to top it off.
After running the Crusaders to a single point in the opener, the Bulls spent most of the first 40 minutes at Hamilton running towards their own line in some disarray. By the time the half was over, the Chiefs led 29-6 and the game was decided. Forget that the Blues won the second half 8-0; long before then the Chiefs had put the match into shut down mode. Injuries to Jerome Kaino and Rudi Wulf only made a bad day worse.
WHO'S HOT: Some of the Bulls big men got a rumble on last week, with prop Dean Greyling leading many charges. His try may have been a bit dodgy, but there was nothing dubious about his work-rate or effectiveness. The backs had plenty of moments last week and some of the play was among the best dished up by any side so far. Any time Akona Ndungane and Zane Kirchner were involved, trouble was brewing for the Cheetahs and this pair did any amount of damage out wide. Kirchner picked up a couple of tries but Ndungane probably had the better match; he is another of these often-overlooked players who make few mistakes and do plenty of things right.
The Blues had very little to get excited about, as they were horribly outplayed in the first spell and well beaten long before the end. This week the fringe defence will be put to the test - there's nothing surer than the Bulls will have a look down both sides of the ruck - and here Daniel Braid and Chris Lowrey will have big parts to play as the ball-carriers need to be put down fast. A little help from their friends won't hurt, but the loosies will have a big job in front of them all day. Isaia Toeava has been quiet so far, mainly because chances have been rare things, but he appeals as one man in the visiting backline who could make life hard for the home defence. At his best, Toeava can turn a game at this level in minutes and his best will be needed this weekend.
WE THINK: Playing at Pretoria against a Bulls side moving forward is a hard place to try and find a first win of the season, but that's the task in front of the Blues this week. It's hard to see them getting the job done; historically these matches go with the home side and the last two trips to Pretoria have seen the Blues well beaten. No doubt the home fans will be out in force, as they always are, and they should have a ten-point win to cheer at the end.
Bulls: 1. Dean Greyling, 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 3. Werner Kruger, 4. Flip van der Merwe, 5. Juandre Kruger, 6. Deon Stegmann, 7. Jacques Potgieter, 8. Pierre Spies (capt), 9. Jano Vermaak, 10. Morne Steyn, 11. Bjorn Basson, 12. Francois Venter, 13. Wynand Olivier, 14. Akona Ndungane, 15. Zane Kirchner.
Replacements: 16. Willie Wepener, 17. Frik Kirsten, 18. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19. CJ Stander, 20. Ruan Snyman, 21. Louis Fouche, 22. JJ Engelbrecht.
Blues: 1. Pauliasi Manu, 2. Keven Mealamu (capt), 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Anthony Boric, 5. Ali Williams, 6. Luke Braid, 7. Daniel Braid, 8. Chris Lowrey, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Gareth Anscombe, 11. Rene Ranger, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Benson Stanley, 14. Sherwin Stowers, 15. Lachie Munro.
Replacements: 16. Tom McCartney, 17. Tevita Mailau, 18. Filo Paulo, 19. Bradley Mika, 20. Alby Mathewson, 21. Hadleigh Parkes, 22. David Raikuna.
REFEREE: Steve Walsh (Aus)
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