Bulls v Lions: Divided only by the Jukskei
IT has been a long time since the Bulls and Lions have faced each other in a semi-final of the Currie Cup, and next weekend Saturday (kickoff 2pm), the Jukskei Derby will once again take centre stage after a prolonged hiatus when the two sides finally lock horns outside of the regular season.
Here, we look at the numbers that will make it a fascinating encounter.
A first semi since ... forever
The upcoming semi-final between the two sides will be their first encounter at this stage of the tournament in more than 15 years.
In 2005 the Bulls beat their neighbours 31-23 to progress to the final through tries from Pedrie Wannenburg, Anton Leonard and Akona Ndugane, and the boot of one Morne Steyn, who compiled 16 points on the day.
The Bulls, who also finished top of the standings that year - a feat they would only repeat again this season - would then lose to the Free State Cheetahs in an epic final a week later at Loftus Versfeld.
Of course, both sides have been involved in the semi-finals since then, but have always found themselves playing on the other side of the draw. Even so, the two teams have not played against each other in a Currie Cup final since 2002, won by the Bulls 31-7.
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The last 10 years belong to the Lions
Both sides have a proud history in the Currie Cup, the Bulls more so, having won it 23 times to the Joburgers 11. In the last 10 years, despite a tumultuous period for both teams, the neighbours have played an integral part in the semi-finals of the tournament.
Since 2010, the Lions have participated 10 times at this stage of the Currie Cup, going on to win it twice (2011 and 2015), while also being losing finalists on another two occasions (2014 and 2019).
For the Bulls, that period has been more underwhelming - they have featured only once in a final, losing to the Cheetahs 36-16 in 2016, and have not claimed the championship since 2009 when they beat their nemesis, the Free State, 36-24. Nevertheless, they have finished in the top 4 of the competition on eight occasions since then, missing out on a last four play-off spot in 2011, 2014 and 2019.
The head-to-head is tight
This season the Bulls narrowly won both their matches against the Lions. During Super Rugby Unlocked they secured a 30-25 victory away at Emirates Airline Park, and more recently in the Currie Cup at Loftus they triumphed 22-15.
The two sides didn't play each other in Super Rugby proper last year, as both those matches were cancelled due to the Covid-19 hard lockdown.
Tracking back to 2019 in the Currie Cup, the Bulls beat the Johannesburg-based side away 31-26, and a year earlier lost at home 38-35. In 2017 they shared the spoils, the Bulls at first dominating 54-22 at Loftus, and then a few weeks later in the return fixture, the Lions coming up trumps 36-33. In their last five Super Rugby encounters, the Bulls have come out on top on three occasions since 2018.
Since rugby turned professional in 1996, the Bulls have a 55% win-ratio against the Lions, specifically in the Currie Cup, and that statistic holds true over the course of the last 10 years where they have won 54% of matches in all competitions since 2010. The two sides have never, in their Currie Cup history - from 1938 - played to a draw.
And what about home comforts
Separated by only 57km, divided by the Jukskei, and a constant inter-mingling of former players, the two teams don't care much about who plays home or away.
Indeed, in the 35 matches in all competitions played between the two in the last decade, homeground advantage has accounted for only 20 combined victories - a competitive 53% win ratio.
On average, the Bulls win their encounters against the Lions 28-26, so expect another close match when the two meet in 10 days time.