Can the Vodacom Bulls break their Auckland duck and beat the Blues for the first time ever in New Zealand? This question will be answered early on Sunday morning (SA times), when these two sides clash in the final Vodacom Super Rugby match of the weekend at Eden Park.
The closest the Vodacom Bulls ever came to beating the Blues away from home, was in 2008, when they lost by 21-23 despite outscoring the team from Auckland by three tries to two.
Added to this, the Vodacom Bulls also lost their last home game against the Blues (in 2012), meaning their last victory over the New Zealanders was back in the opening round of 2009. These two teams did not meet in 2011.
To complicate matters for the visitors from Pretoria, they will be facing a Blues team high on confidence after their very impressive 34-15 demolition of the Crusaders at Eden Park last weekend.
The Aucklanders scored five tries against the former champions and looked very comfortable with ball in hand, as well as on defence, where they did not concede one try.
Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, whose team won five of their last six opening tour matches Down Under, made a number of changes to the side after they struggled to put away the Western Force at Loftus Versfeld last weekend.
“We have talked about our depth and this is a great opportunity to really test that,” Ludeke said.
“All the guys who start for the first time this season will be very keen and it will also give some respite to those who are feeling a bit sore after the first couple of matches.”
Ludeke realises the Blues will be a very tough opponent this weekend. It will be the first time the Vodacom Bulls play on a Sunday since 8 April 2001, when they lost 29-42 to the Crusaders in Pretoria. They also lost to the Crusaders on Sunday 5 April 1998 in Christchurch (20-31).
“Both the Blues’ wins were well deserved,” said Ludeke.
“They play very enterprising rugby. We have been up and down and our aim will be to produce the good spells for longer. We also know we will have to pick up points on tour if we want to be around at the business end of the competition”.
Vodacom Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Wynand Olivier, Lionel Mapoe, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies (captain), Arno Botha, Deon Stegmann, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Frik Kirsten, Willie Wepener, Morné Mellett. Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Werner Kruger, Grant Hattingh, Jacques Potgieter, Francois Hougaard, Louis Fouché, Jürgen Visser.
Kick-off: 05h05 (SA Time)
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)