Pretoria – Buoyed by the return of stalwart wing Akona Ndungane, the Bulls will be looking for the scalp of another leading team in this year’s Super Rugby competition when they face the Chiefs at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
Ndungane, who was on compassionate leave for a fortnight, is the only change to the starting XV which beat the Sharks 23-19 last weekend.
Regular captain Flip van der Merwe has not recovered from a hamstring strain sustained shortly before the Sharks game and legendary lock Victor Matfield will continue as the stand-in skipper.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said it was encouraging to take on the defending champions with a relatively unchanged side.
“We all know how vital it is to keep continuity, especially when the team has had a good win, and to keep the combinations together,” Ludeke said in Pretoria on Wednesday.
While the Chiefs are the leading New Zealand team in the competition and are placed fourth overall, they are equal on 14 points with the sixth-placed Bulls.
Matches between these two sides are usually high-scoring encounters which includes the 2009 Super14 final where the Bulls scored eight tries for a 61-17 annihilation of the Chiefs in Pretoria.
The match-ups between them are evenly poised, with the Chiefs having won eight of the last 16 games with one match ending in a stalemate.
While matches between these sides were high-scoring in nature, Matfield said it was the difference in playing philosophies between the countries, rather than between the teams, which contributed towards the high-octane action.
“When South African sides are playing each other, there is a lot of kicking. They almost don’t want to give opportunities in their own half,” he said.
“When you play New Zealand sides, they want to score tries so they go out there and play and it gives you an opportunity to play as well.”
He said they would, therefore, have to plan for open games and match the New Zealand sides on attack.
This will be the Bulls’ last home game before they head to Australasia next week for the next phase of their campaign.
The Bulls’ three victories this season were all at home and it will be crucial to cement Loftus Versfeld as an impenetrable fortress when they return from their four-week tour.
“We are just focusing on this week (against the Chiefs). Next week will look after itself,” Ludeke said.
“ 1/8Victory 3/8 is vital for us. We want to finish this phase well, as it’s our last game at home before going on tour.
“We will need a huge effort in terms of work rate because the ball will be in play and there will be a lot of phases with a lot of tackles to be made to get the result.”
Bulls team: Jurgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter, Jacques du Plessis, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield (captain), Paul Willemse, Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Morne Mellett, Marcel van der Merwe, Grant Hattingh, Jono Ross, Piet van Zyl, Handre Pollard, Ulrich Beyers. – Sapa