JOHANNESBURG – It’s the trans-Jukskei derby again tomorrow, with a place in the Super Rugby playoffs serving as extra motivation.
IOL Sport’s rugby scribe Jacques van der Westhuyzen says the Lions will win. His colleague Ockert de Villiers says: Not so fast, the Bulls will win. Here are their views:
Jacques van der Westhuyzen: Why the Lions will win
There are several reasons why Swys de Bruin’s team should be the hot favourites going into tomorrow’s all-important and crucial final regular-season fixture, the biggest one being that they will probably have to win it to make it into the last eight, and playoff, places.
A draw, and two points banked, might be enough to see them advance, but they are certainly not going to try and play for a draw. There’s plenty of pride at stake and let’s not forget the Lions have been South Africa’s best team in the last three years, reaching the final between 2016 and 2018, and they will be desperate to feature in the quarter-finals again - to at least give themselves a chance of progressing and, who knows, maybe making it four finals in a row?
But there are other factors favouring the Lions. They’ll be hurting after copping a bit of a hiding from the Hurricanes at Ellis Park last weekend (41-22) and probably haven’t forgotten what the Bulls did to them at home in round three as well (the Pretoria-based team won 30-12). They’ll want to make up for those two defeats; so there will be fire in the belly of the Lions players as they look to make things right at this late stage of the campaign.
And they’ll look to take advantage of what could be a tired Bulls outfit, who only arrived back in SA late on Sunday following their gruelling trip back from New Zealand, where they faced the Highlanders down in the South Island last Friday. It’s never easy - or nice - travelling so far and then having to get oneself pumped up and ready for another big battle. The bodies and minds of the Bulls players may just be a little “off”.
While Loftus may be the home ground of the Bulls, the Lions have enjoyed playing in Pretoria in recent times and won on both occasions they last visited Pretoria (49-35 last year and 56-20 in 2016).
Of course, the Lions also have match-winners like Aphiwe Dyantyi and Malcolm Marx in their ranks, and they are both currently in top form. It’s game over for the Bulls.
Ockert de Villiers: Why the Bulls will win
Battle-hardened and buoyed by an unbeaten New Zealand tour, the Bulls may have found the momentum they so desperately searched for throughout their 2019 campaign.
Their successful tour of Australasia has given the Bulls a sniff of reaching the Super Rugby playoffs for the first time since 2013. This is bad news for a Lions team still smarting from their comprehensive defeat to the Bulls in their last encounter in April.
The Bulls struck the first psychological blow in their first meeting at Ellis Park where the Pretoria-based side broke the Lions’ 14-match unbeaten run against SA opposition.
The Lions still have a historical advantage over the Bulls, winning every match against the team from Loftus since 2016.
But the Bulls class of 2019 boasts a few seasoned campaigners who have found a way to dominate proceedings in the local derbies, winning four of their five matches against fellow SA opposition so far this season.
Granted, the Bulls have not been as dominant as they would have liked when playing at Loftus losing three of their matches at home.
The match will serve as a final goodbye for some Bulls stalwarts, and they will be looking to leave Pretoria on a high note.
The Bulls have been further bolstered by the return of Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen who will add some beef and experience to their pack.
At the back, they have added attacking options with Warrick Gelant returning to the last line of defence with Rosko Specman making his return from injury.
While the Bulls will feel some pressure to secure a playoff berth with a victory over their Gauteng rivals, they may only need a losing bonus point to advance. This could give them room to play with some freedom as they showed in their 24-all draw with the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend.
The Bulls’ tactical linchpin Handre Pollard has found a rich vein of form which bodes well for his team’s chances of topping the Lions.
Pollard overshadowed his Springbok rival Elton Jantjies the last time they met, and he will be rubbing his hands with glee for another meeting with Lions playmaker.
@ockertde and @jacq_west