There should be plenty of thrilling action when South African heavyweights the Bulls and Stormers go head-to-head in Pretoria on Saturday.
Despite playing at home, the Bulls are under pressure as they have won just one of the five matches they have played so far this season and are currently at the bottom of the South African Conference standings and second from bottom – above the Sunwolves – on the overall table.
The Stormers meanwhile are second on the South African Conference table with three wins and three losses from their six matches played. The men from the Cape have won six of their last seven games against the Bulls, restricting them to fewer than seven first-half points in all but one of those games.
The Bulls have won only one of their last seven games on home turf (six losses) while the Stormers have won seven of their last nine South African derbies, including each of their last two against the Bulls.
Not only have the Bulls (15) won the most line-outs per game of any team this season, but they’ve done so at a competition-high success rate of 94 percent.
After their poor form on their travels, Bulls captain Burger Odendaal feels the energy they will receive from their home crowd will be a huge boost.
“We started the season well, but the results on tour were not what we wanted to achieve,” he said.
“Back home at Loftus now, we hope to find that extra gear to get our season back on track. No one in this team needs motivation to play well against the Stormers.
“They are on a roll and we need to be at our very best if we want to stay in the contest.”
Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck explained his team are determined to continue the winning momentum they generated against the Blues and Reds at Newlands.
“The team has performed well to win our last two games, but we know that there are a number of areas in which we can still improve,” he said.
“It has been another good week of training with a few key players returning from injury, so we are looking forward to the weekend which gives us another chance to make a step up in our game.”
Team news: Bulls head coach John Mitchell has made four changes to his starting line-up for this fixture. Hooker Adriaan Strauss will become the most experienced South African in Super Rugby competition when he takes to the field. The former Bulls and Springboks captain will play in his 149th match in the tournament, bettering the 148-match tally record he shared with Victor Matfield, another former Bulls and Boks skipper.
Strauss, who made his debut for the Bulls in 2006, is one of four changes to the starting team for this North/South derby. The veteran will start in place of Jaco Visagie, who moves to the bench, with Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier also switching roles after the latter started at scrum-half against the Crusaders last Friday.
The same will apply at blindside flank, where Marco van Staden will earn a first start for the year, with Roelof Smith playing off the bench. Mitchell has also moved Hanro Liebenberg to lock in place of injured Lood de Jager, resulting in Thembelani Bholi slotting into the number seven jersey vacated by Liebenberg.
Meanwhile, Stormers boss Robbie Fleck has also made four tweaks to his starting line-up. SP Marais and Dillyn Leyds return from injury to take their place at full-back and wing respectively, while a rib injury to Dewaldt Duvenage means that Justin Phillips will start at scrum-half, with Jano Vermaak returning from injury to provide cover on the replacements bench.
The only alteration to the pack is a rotational switch between Steven Kitshoff and JC Janse van Rensburg, with hooker Scarra Ntubeni set to make his first appearance this season if he comes on as a replacement.
2017: Stormers won 41-33 in Pretoria
2017: Stormers won 37-24 in Cape Town
2016: Bulls won 17-13 in Pretoria
2016: Stormers won 33-09 in Cape Town
2015: Stormers won 15-13 in Cape Town
2015: Stormers won 29-17 in Pretoria
2014: Stormers won 16-00 in Cape Town
2014: Bulls won 28-12 in Pretoria
2013: Stormers won 30-13 in Cape Town
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Divan Rossouw, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Hanro Liebenberg, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Frans van Wy, 18 Lizo Gqoboka, 19 Hendre Stassen, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Johnny Kotze
Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Kobus van Dyk, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Jano Vermaak, 23 Craig Barry
Date: Saturday, March 31
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)