Preview: Bulls vs Cheetahs
Wynand Olivier will become the 15th South African player to reach 100 Super Rugby caps this weekend when the Bulls host the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday evening.
Olivier will add his name to those of Bryan Habana, Morné Steyn and Jacques Botes, who have all reached a century of Super Rugby caps in 2012.
Furthermore Steyn, the top points-scorer in two of the last three seasons, can become the first player in 2012 to reach 200 competition points.
He is currently on 193 points for the season and a converted try will push him past the double century (provided he scores and converts it himself).
And while Steyn and Olivier will provide the bulk of the experience for the home team, the visitors will travel to Pretoria with two debutants in their pack - prop Marcel van der Merwe and flank Lappies Labuschagne will both get their first taste of Super Rugby at Loftus.
Nine of the Bulls’ players played in the recent series against England while four more were part of the squad but never got any game time.
“We are lucky to have all our players back from international duty injury free and ready to go,” said Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.
“The series win against England will do wonders for their confidence, while those not involved with the Boks are refreshed and ready to go.
“Our Springboks are not international players for nothing, they have the mental strength to recover quickly from disappointing performances.”
Thus far, the Cheetahs have won five of their 13 matches this season - the same as in 2007, 2010 and 2011 - meaning one more win will make 2012 their best-ever season.
Naka Drotské, whose Cheetahs team will be hoping to win their first-ever Super Rugby match against the Bulls this weekend, said his team is ready for the challenge.
“We’re very excited to be going to Pretoria,” said Drotské.
“Only two of our players were involved with the Boks recently and the rest of the squad prepared well and also got some necessary rest. We need one win to make it our best season yet and we’re very motivated to go to Loftus and do well.”
Key Battle: There will be plenty of players who will be keen to send a message to Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer ahead of the Rugby Championship. Struggling Springbok and Bulls halfback pair Francois Hougaard and Morne Steyn top this list.
Hougaard will have to prove he has the tactical acumen to fit into Meyer’s game plan while Steyn needs to get his radar working after slotting only 12 of 22 during the three-Test series against England.
Chiliboy Ralepelle would also want to wrestle his place in the Springbok matchday 22 back from in-form Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss.
The key confrontation, though, will be that of Dewald Potgieter versus Heinrich Brussow. The Cheetahs fetcher was the unluckiest player to be omitted from the Springbok squad and will be desperate to force Meyer’s hand with a stellar showing on Saturday.
Last Meeting: Bulls 51-19 Cheetahs (Bloemfontein).
Prediction: A plethora of returning Springboks, home ground advantage and a significant edge in experience point to a victory for the Bulls - albeit not quite as comfortably as their 32-point win in Bloemfontein. Bulls by ten points.
Saturday 30 June: Bulls vs. Cheetahs, Pretoria (19:10)
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Francois Venter
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Philip Snyman, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 WP Nel, 18 George Earle, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Nico Scheepers