Vodacom Super Rugby resumes this weekend in South Africa and New Zealand with four tough derbies and one cross-section clash in Durban, where The Sharks will be looking for their ninth consecutive win over the Blues.
It has been almost a month since the last round of action involving teams from South Africa and New Zealand – Round 17 consisted of only two Aussie derbies – and with the Finals Series a little over three weeks away, a number of teams will be looking to step things up as they fight for places in the top six.
The Vodacom Bulls, SA Conference leaders, host the Southern Kings at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria at 17h05 on Saturday. The home team have been hard hit by injuries, which will test their depth, and the visitors themselves are under pressure because of the non-availability of a number of injured players.
On Saturday it will be almost three months since the Vodacom Bulls last lost in Vodacom Super Rugby. They are on a seven-match winning streak and will be looking to make it eight when they host the Southern Kings in Pretoria this weekend.
The Vodacom Bulls’ last defeat was on tour against the Brumbies on 30 March. It was the last encounter of a three-match losing streak Down Under and now, with the playoffs in sight, they are leading the South African Conference.
Looking at the Vodacom Bulls’ home record in recent seasons, it’s clear the Kings have a massive task ahead. Since winning their third Vodacom Super Rugby title in 2010, the team from Pretoria have lost only five out of 22 matches at Loftus Versfeld.
Going back to the start of 2007, it changes to nine home defeats in 53 matches – not too shabby.
Both teams have lost their captains this week, and in both instances the injury news was not good – the Vodacom Bulls’ Pierre Spies and the Kings’ Luke Watson will not play again in 2013. Dewald Potgieter (Bulls) and Andries Strauss (Kings) will lead their teams out on Saturday.
“It’s good to have a few of our front-line players back as we head into the business end of the competition, especially since we’ve lost a few players to injury,” said Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.
“This is a massive game for us – each game in Super Rugby is – but we’ve set our goals for the season and now is the time to make sure we achieve them. The Kings will not be an easy opponent, as there is no such thing in this competition.
“We simply need to ensure we stick to what has been working for us thus far this year and the guys who are getting opportunities need to put their hands up on Saturday.”
The teams are:
Vodacom Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, Jan Serfontein, Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson, Louis Fouché, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter (captain), Jacques Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Grant Hattingh, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Frik Kirsten, Juandré Kruger, Jono Ross, Rudy Paige, Morné Steyn, JJ Engelbrecht.
Southern Kings: SP Marais, Michael Killian, Ronnie Cooke, Andries Strauss (captain), Marcello Sampson, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter, Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, Darron Nell, David Bulbring, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Grant Kemp, Hannes Franklin, Rynier Bernardo, Devin Oosthuizen, Nicolas Vergallo, George Whitehead, Shane Gates.
Vodacom Bulls v Southern Kings
Date: Saturday, 29 June
SA Time: 17h05
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)