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Bulls must tackle as if their 'lives depend on it'

Super Rugby
PRETORIA - It might seem like a dead rubber encounter but there will be a lot at stake when the Bulls lock horns against the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday afternoon.

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Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss says the Cheetahs will be tough opponents. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

The truth of the matter is that both sides are languishing almost at the basement of the African conference and are unlikely to challenge for a berth in the play-offs later in the season.

However, the show must go on and the Bulls will go into the clash hopeful that the turnaround in fortunes that they showed in their second win of the season against the Jaguares last week continues today.

But the Bulls will still be haunted by their corresponding fixture against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein earlier in the season where their frailties were cruelly exposed and the rot had begun setting in.

The Bulls, though, have made some progress since then albeit it has only been a week, but they are a much improved outfit in terms of how they have managed their start and in their execution.

Bulls coach Nollis Marais believes things have changed for his side and the fact that they are back at fortress Loftus will make a difference in their performance and their road to redemption will be taken one game at a time.

“I can say a lot of things at the moment and we won one out of six games before last week. It is difficult to play away, especially if you play five games away at the beginning,” said Marais.

“We expected more from the side in the beginning but I don’t think that this is a danger, but only results can change that. At home we are up for it and there are a lot of things we have to take into consideration, apart from travelling. We need to focus on this weekend alone and not look past it.

“I think they are playing good rugby, but they let in a few points in the last 20 minutes. They are a very competitive side, they are a very dangerous side and they create a lot of opportunities to score against you.

“I don’t think we are the same team that we were in round two and I think we have a different side, a different attitude. Also not playing away, playing at home makes a huge difference. Yes I think we are better off than in round two.”

While the on field battle might be diluted and made irrelevant by the on-going anxiety of which South African teams will get the axe ahead of next year’s Super Rugby competition, Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss still believes that the passion and brutality that is the hallmark of South African derbies will fuel both teams.

The Cheetahs are more likely to get the cut along with the Southern Kings and the feeling coming out of Bloemfontein is that every game is a fight for their survival.

The Bulls, on the other hand, may feel safe from being eliminated from the competition but their results this year could easily suggest that they too are amongst the weaker sides in the country.

Regardless of the outcome, this game will in all probability have no bearing on the decision that will be made by the South African Rugby Union on which four teams will participate in Super Rugby next year and beyond but the Bulls are eager to once again prove that they remain as one of the strongest franchises in the country.

Strauss is hopeful that his side’s confidence has grown since their win against the Jaguares. While they will be without the injured Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard and Springboks Jan Serfontein and Trevor Nyakane who have been rested, there is enough belief within his side to put on their biggest and best performance of the season.

"This will be a massive game. They have the belief that they can beat us and to be honest, have the players to do that if we don't pitch," said Strauss, who will become the most capped South African hooker in the competition in his 138th appearance.

“Any South African derby match is huge, and I know how much it means for them to beat the Bulls. We must prepare for a total onslaught and will have to tackle as if our lives depend on it. But saying that, I can't wait and I know the team feels the same way.”

Bulls team: Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Jamba Ulengo, Tian Schoeman, Piet van Zyl, Hanro Liebenberg, Jannes Kirsten, Nic de Jager, Lood de Jager, Jason Jenkins, Jacobie Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka, Martin Dreyer, RG Snyman, Jacques Potgieter, Rudy Paige, Francois Brummer, Franco Naude.

Cheetahs team: Clayton Blommetjies, William Small-Smith, Francois Venter (captain), Nico Lee, Raymond Rhule, Niel Marais, Shaun Venter, Henco Venter, Oupa Mohoje, Paul Schoeman, Carl Wegner, Armandt Koster, Johan Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Charles Marais. Replacements: Elandre Huggett, Ox Nche, Tom Botha, Francois Uys, Niell Jordaan, Uzair Cassiem, Tian Meyer, Fred Zeilinga

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe

Assistant referees: Angus Gardner, AJ Jacobs

TMO: Willie Vos

Venue: Loftus Versfeld

Kick-off: 5.15pm

TV: SS1

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