Super Rugby 2017: Cheetahs v Bulls Preview


We preview Saturday's South African derby between the Cheetahs and the Bulls.

After going down in their respective Round One matches, both the Cheetahs and Bulls will want to restore pride in what is sure to be a classic SA derby encounter in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Cheetahs v Bulls | Saturday 4 March | Toyota Free State Stadium | 19:30

To Win (80 mins)
Cheetahs 1/1 | Draw 22/1 | Bulls 8/10

The Cheetahs’ tournament opener against the Lions was a lacklustre affair, although the fact that they let the game slip from their grasp just four minutes before the eighty, would still have hurt them. The 'Bloemfontein Boytjies' played with a great deal of attacking intent, but their execution was sorely lacking. The hosts made 16 handling errors over the course of the game, and in the end were made to pay by a more clinical Lions outfit. Week two offers up another shot at collecting maximum points, however, and they will back themselves against a Bulls side that struggled at times against the Stormers.

The Cheetahs will be pleased with the way their defence held up for most of the game against the potent attack of the Lions, although, a few minor lapses in concentration did lead to two Rohan Janse van Rensburg scores. An improved defensive showing over the course of the eighty, as well as a more clinical display on offense, should see the Cheetahs in with a shout on Saturday. Their loss to the Lions will push them on this weekend, as last season’s unbeaten Currie Cup champions look to emulate the class of 2013 and again make the Super Rugby playoffs.

Fred Zeilinga’s boot did, at one stage, open up a 10-point lead against last week’s opposition, and his kicking ability will again come to the fore this time round. Franco Smith will again want his side to open up a solid lead before expressing themselves on attack, and Zeilinga is key in this regard.

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I’ll admit, I was expecting a more attack-oriented Bulls side this season, but the way Nollis Marais’ (and indeed Robbie Fleck’s) men played the game last weekend caught me completely off-guard. The enterprise they showed on attack was a breath-of-fresh-air, as each of the SA franchises finally (finally!) seem to be moving in the Lions’ and Kiwi sides’ rugby direction. Despite the eagerness and positivity, they showed in the early exchanges, they were definitely caught unawares by a Stormers team with a similar attacking philosophy, albeit a side that showed much more intensity. Coming out onto the pitch after halftime, and trailing by 24 to nil, the Bulls did show great character to pull a few back but ultimately could never make up the lost ground on their opponents.

Handre Pollard will demand his Pretoria boys show greater urgency against the Cheetahs, and build up an early score of their own. Lood de Jager returns to his old stomping ground, and he will want to make a big impression in the set-pieces to lay the platform for his industrious backs to do just this. The way the Bulls used the middle of the park last time out, bringing monstrous winger Jambo Ulengo into play off the fringes (something they did on several occasions) allowed for greater attacking width, and this is something they will certainly look to replicate on Saturday. The Bulls will believe that they can beat the Cheetahs this weekend, and greater intensity from the first whistle will aid their cause.

Verdict: Bulls 8/10
Pollard and his men will put one over the Free Staters this weekend. The Cheetahs forwards will struggle to dominate the collisions, and so will have their hands full dealing with the likes of Ulengo and company, who should cause mayhem in the backs.
Written by Shaun Goosen for!

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