Cape Town - Zebre Parma are on a 23-match losing streak and last won a competitive encounter in April 2022, but it is exactly that kind of record that makes the Bulls wary of the Italian club in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash at Ellis Park (1pm kickoff).
Zebre nearly pulled off two shock victories in their first two URC games this season, but came up just short at home against Leinster (33-29) and the Sharks (42-37).
Their nightmare has continued for the rest of the season, with their latest defeat being a 34-30 heartbreaker against Cardiff at their Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi home ground on March 24.
They have to go back to April 30 last year, when they toppled the Dragons 23-18 at home, for their previous triumph, which ended a 27-match losing run.
But they haven’t been embarrassed, with the only really big defeats coming against the Dragons (47-7), Benetton (38-5) and Glasgow (50-8).
So, they will run out at Ellis Park this afternoon with more than just a little hope, while they are equipped with a couple of South Africans as well. Fullback Richard Kriel will face his older brother David, who is at left wing for the Bulls, while other imports include ex-Sharks and Stormers wing Kobus van Wyk and former Southern Kings and Pumas centre Erich Cronjé, as well as hooker Jacques du Toit, who has turned out for the Kings, Cheetahs and Bath previously.
“They haven’t won for a long time, but the reality is that they are there and thereabouts. If you look at some of their results, they don’t get put away,” Bulls coach Jake White said yesterday.
“They’ve got a couple of South African guys there who know the Bulls as well – Jan Uys was here, and David’s brother Richard is there, who was also here.
“They are one of those teams who don’t go away… they stay in the fight for a long time, and I am not expecting anything different tomorrow afternoon.”
Zebre coach Fabio Roselli said on the club website that they have had two weeks to prepare for the Bulls.
“Despite the end of the season, there was a lot of energy, concentration and the will to continue growing. It is precisely on improving some aspects of the game that we have focused in the last two weeks. We know the Bulls well – we know that they too are experiencing a period of pressure related to results,” he said.
“We have prepared the game in order to defuse their strengths and take advantage of our style of play. It will be a fun match… the first half more intense and stressful in terms of attitude.”
White made one major change to the Bulls side yesterday by bringing in Johan Goosen at flyhalf in place of Chris Smith, and he hopes that the former Springbok pivot can reignite his career after his latest shoulder injury.
“He’s here until 2026, and through injury, he has been in and out. But part of my brief is to get him to play his best rugby,” White said.
“He was the player of the season in France, but has come back now from a shoulder injury. If he’s playing his best rugby and combining with Canan (Moodie) and Kurt-Lee (Arendse) – and Embrose Papier as well, who played well last week – then all of a sudden, you have four Springboks in your backline.
“And when you get that sort of experience and that calibre of player playing together, it gives you a chance in big games. He’s back now, and I can’t wait to see how he does.”
Teams For Ellis Park
Bulls: 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse 14 Canan Moodie 13 Stedman Gans 12 Harold Vorster 11 David Kriel 10 Johan Goosen 9 Embrose 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Cyle Brink 6 Marco van Staden 5 Ruan Nortjé (captain) 4 Ruan Vermaak 3 Mornay Smith 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Bench: 16 Bismarck du Plessis 17 Dylan Smith 18 Francois Klopper 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 WJ Steenkamp 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Chris Smith 23 Cornal Hendricks.
Zebre: 15 Richard Kriel 14 Kobus van Wyk 13 Erich Cronjé 12 Enrico Lucchin 11 Simone Gesi 10 Geronimo Prisciantelli 9 Alessandro Fusco 8 Davide Ruggeri 7 Iacopo Bianchi 6 Guido Volpi 5 Leonard Krumov 4 David Sisi (captain) 3 Matteo Nocera 2 Jacques du Toit 1 Paolo Buonfiglio.
Bench: 16 Luca Bigi 17 Alessio Sanavia 18 Muhamed Hasa 19 Andrea Zambonin 20 Giacomo Ferrari 21 Chris Cook 22 Tiff Eden 23 Jacopo Tulla.