The Bulls’ forwards will have to lay the foundation in order to claim what should be a comfortable victory over the Rebels at Loftus on Saturday.
At Wednesday’s team announcement, Bulls coach Nollis Marais employed a well-versed pressure-diversion tactic by suggesting the Rebels would be favourites for this clash.
‘We are under pressure to deliver on the expectations from our loyal fans and the Rebels will certainly not make it any easier for us,’ he said. ‘They showed against the Force last weekend that they can win tough matches away from home and play for 80 minutes. They edged us last year, so will travel here with a lot of confidence. In fact, I think they are the favourites for this.’
Realistically, though, the Bulls should be backed to get the better of the Rebels, and for their pack to rebound from last weekend’s indifferent showing against the Stormers.
The Bulls battled at the lineouts and particularly had their struggles at scrum-time during the latter stages of the match at Newlands. Marais named an unchanged pack on Wednesday, although Grant Hattingh, who is poised to play in his 50th Super Rugby match, will have to undergo a late fitness test.
As a traditionally set-piece driven team, the Bulls’ malfunctioning lineout and scrums played no small part in their failure to effectively implement their plans and launch a penetrative attack against the Stormers.
Yet after that first hit-out, the Bulls should be better placed to produce a more complete performance, while besides the improvement required up front, they’ll also need to cut down their high handling error rate.
The Bulls’ ability to adjust to the midweek midfield disruption that has seen key Springbok Jesse Kriel ruled out with injury, will also be essential to their cause.
Having said that, the Rebels have endured their own injury woes, with Mike Harris and Colby Fainga’a ruled out for extended periods, while Nic Stirzaker is unavailable as the result of a shoulder injury.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 3, Rebels 1
In Pretoria: Bulls 2, Rebels 0
STATS AND FACTS
– This will be the fifth match between the Bulls and Rebels in Super Rugby, and after a maiden win in their last meeting, the Rebels will be looking for their first back-to-back victory against the Bulls.
– The Bulls are now without a win in their last six matches, their longest streak since losing all 12 matches of the 2002 season.
– After winning against the Force in their first match, the Rebels will be looking to open a Super Rugby season with back-to-back victories for the first time in their history.
– The Rebels won 15 turnovers in their opening game, more than any other side in the opening round of fixtures.
– Jannes Kirsten made 18 tackles in the opening round, the second most of any player behind Michael Hooper (21) and the most of any player who didn’t miss a single tackle.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Roelod Smit, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel.
Rebels – 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Sean McMahon (c), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jonah Placid, 23 Dan Hawkins.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)