The three-time Super Rugby champions the Bulls arrived in Perth this week, determined to finish their Australasian tour on a high. The only thing standing in their way is a wounded Force side, looking to get back to winning ways in front of the passionate Sea of Blue.
The ledger reads 3 wins to 2 in the Bulls favour. They will be hoping to continue their run of wins over the Force; equally the Force will want to secure a much-needed win over the Bulls, which has not been achieved since 2011.
The results of the Bulls’ Australasian tour reads 0 and 3, yet the men from Pretoria will be ruing missed chances to win at least one of those games. Consequently, the Force cannot afford to take the Bulls lightly.
The Force and Bulls are ranked fifth and ninth respectively, but games played between the Force and Bulls are tipped in the Bulls’ favour, Apart from the 28-15 blowout win to the Bulls in Perth (2010), the Force have won the other two times at home.
As always, the battle up front will go a long way to winning the match.
Both teams pride themselves on a dominant scrum and lineout, but it is the Bulls who have the edge.
Last week the Force were dismantled by the Rebels scrum. Head coach Michael Foley will be working overtime with the pack to fix any issues which might be exploited by the Bulls.
Meanwhile, the Bulls prevailed in the scrum contest with the Waratahs, but could not capitalize on their scrum dominance as they lost 12-19.
If the Force do not improve on their scrum, they will get a working over by the Bulls, who will use the scrum as a weapon to gain territory, accumulate points and apply the pressure back on the home team.
Similarly, the importance of the lineout is furthered by the strength of both team’s lineouts.
It is no surprise that the Bulls lineout is ranked highly in the comp – at a success rate of 93% they are the second best in the competition. With the lineout success rate of the Force at 85.3%, it is clear the lineout will be fiercely contested.
Another area of focus for both teams, but one where the Force might have the ascendancy.
The Force backrow of Cottrell, Hodgson and McCalman are a balanced trio, effective at disrupting opposition breakdowns and allowing Hodgson to make crucial pilfers. On their own ball, the Force are fourth in the comp with a 95% rucks success rate, largely due to the work of these three.
Compare that to the Bulls, who have a backrow containing two utility lock-cum-flankers: Jacques du Plessis and Grant Hattingh, and a no. 8 / blindside flanker in Jono Ross. Without a genuine openside, the larger Bulls backrow will need to work doubly hard at breakdowns.
The Force remain without such players as wing Luke Morahan (hamstring) and scrum-half Alby Mathewson (ankle), but will welcome the return of lock Sam Wykes and fullback Jayden Hayward.
Wykes will now start alongside Adam Coleman, relegating Wilhelm Steenkamp to the bench. Jayden Hayward will come back into the starting lineup at 15, forcing Dane Haylett-Petty’s move to the wing.
The Bulls have had a horror run of injuries – notably in the backrow – so lock-cum-flankers Jacques du Plessis and Grant Hattingh have been moved to the backrow. In addition, the Bulls will be without scrum-half Piet Van Zyl (knee), and captain lock Flip van der Merwe has been given a 3-week suspension for striking Paddy Ryan.
Francois Hougaard will now switch from wing to scrum-half. Paul Willemse moves from the bench to partner Matfield in the second row.
Good news for the Bulls, though, as wing Akona Ndungane (knee) returns from injury to start at 14, and fullback Jurgen Visser (foot) resumes his spot at 15. Ulrich Beyers is now on the bench, as is backrower Wimpie van der Walt.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has also opted to rest hooker Callie Visagie; thus, Bongi Mbonambi comes into the starting lineup, and Bandise Maku takes his place on the bench.
Key Match Ups
The 12-13 Bulls centre pairing of Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht will this Saturday come up against the relatively inexperienced Force centre pairing of Kyle Godwin and Marcel Brache.
Both capped for the Springboks, these two young talented players are a formidable duo in midfield. The hard running and rock solid defense of Serfontein combines well with Engelbrecht, a more elusive player, who possesses great acceleration, has a great step, and is able to spot and exploit a gap. These two will put pressure on the Force defence.
Meanwhile, Godwin starts alongside handy South African utility Brache. Both are elusive ball in hand, but recently have spent more time defending then actually threatening with ball in hand.
With Serfontein and Engelbrecht spearheading the Bulls attack, it will be long night for the Force if Godwin and Brache are predominantly making tackles.
As been mentioned, both teams utilize their lineout to secure good ball and prevent the opposition from getting clean ball. With Matfield organising the Bulls lineout, and Wykes/Steenkamp, the Force lineout, an exciting encounter awaits.
Both teams also employ the driving maul to great effect, however it is the Force who will need to be weary of an effective Bulls catch-and-drive, which trounced them last year at Loftus Versfeld.
It will be up to the whole Force forward pack to decide early whether to commit to contesting the ball in the air, or preemptively set up the maul defence.
Both teams are bouncing back from a loss. Both teams have plenty to play for.
The Bulls arrive in Perth looking to keep in touch with the South African conference leaders, the Sharks (who have yet to tour Australasia).
Meanwhile the Force is hopeful a win will bring them one step closer to surpassing last season. And just maybe, begin to dream of making the finals.
Force by 4.
Force: 1. Pek Cowan, 2. Nathan Charles, 3. Kieran Longbottom, 4. Adam Coleman, 5. Sam Wykes, 6. Angus Cottrell, 7. Matt Hodgson (c), 8. Ben McCalman, 9. Ian Prior, 10. Sias Ebersohn, 11. Nick Cummins, 12. Kyle Godwin, 13. Marcel Brache, 14. Dane Haylett-Petty, 15. Jayden Hayward.
Reserves: 16. Heath Tessmann, 17. Tetera Faulkner, 18. Ollie Hoskins, 19. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20. Brynard Stander, 21. Justin Turner, 22. Zack Holmes, 23. Chris Tuatara-Morrison.
Bulls: 1. Dean Greyling, 2. Bongi Mbonambi, 3. Werner Kruger, 4. Paul Willemse, 5. Victor Matfield (c), 6. Jono Ross, 7. Jacques du Plessis, 8. Grant Hattingh, 9. Francois Hougaard, 10. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 11. Bjorn Basson, 12. Jan Serfontein, 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 14. Akona Ndungane, 15. Jurgen Visser.
Rerserves: 16. Bandise Maku, 17. Mornè Mellett, 18. Marcel van der Merwe, 19. Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21. Rudy Paige, 22. Handrè Pollard, 23. Ulrich Beyers.
Match No. 66: Force v Bulls
Date: Saturday 26 April
Venue: nib Stadium
Kick Off local: 17:40
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Ref 1: James Leckie
Assistant Ref 2: Matt O’Brien
TMO: Peter Marshall