x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Lowly Force hoping to halt the Bulls' stampede

Victor Matfield, the Springbok lock, will equal Corne Krige's South African record of captaining 52 times when he leads the experienced Bulls against the bottom team.

Pierre Spies, centre, the Bulls No 8, is tackled by Bryn Evans and John Schwalger of the Hurricanes during Pretoria's 19-18 win at Loftus Versfeldt last weekend.
Pierre Spies, centre, the Bulls No 8, is tackled by Bryn Evans and John Schwalger of the Hurricanes during Pretoria's 19-18 win at Loftus Versfeldt last weekend.

The Pretoria Bulls have the opportunity to pull clear of the chasing Super 14 pack this weekend with a beneficial draw that sees them eased into the usually arduous Australasian trek. While their nearest rivals the Cape Town Stormers and the Canterbury Crusaders have the bye, the Bulls start their road trip against the bottom side, Western Force, in Perth.

Victor Matfield, the Springbok lock, will equal Corne Krige's South African record of captaining his Super team 52 times when he leads an experienced Bulls side tomorrow. His side will also have the fit-again Jaco Pretorius at outside centre in place of Stephan Dippenaar. "It is great to have Jaco back," said Frans Ludeke, the Bulls coach. "He is one of the senior players and offers us a lot, especially on attack.

"I am very happy with Stephan as he took his chances well when given the opportunity. It is good to know we have that kind of depth in the squad." The Bulls have won two of their four games against the Force but did suffer a 15-14 loss on their last visit to Western Australia two years ago. The Force are without a win so far this season and have just one point, but last week's 14-10 defeat to the New South Wales Waratahs has Sam Harris, the fly-half, convinced that the team are moving in the right direction.

"For the first time in five games we dug in for 80 minutes and didn't throw in the towel," Harris told his club's official website yesterday. "And if it wasn't for a couple of dubious refereeing decisions and a couple of missed opportunities we would have won comfortably. "We were the better team on the night, unfortunately that doesn't get us the four or five points we're so very hungry for. "The belief is starting to come back into the group. You can see that the lads are chomping at the bit to take on the Bulls."

The Stormers and Crusaders, one point behind the Bulls and five ahead of the Waratahs, will remain in the top four regardless of how the rest of the round pans out. But further back, as the competition heads into round seven, the battle to be in contention for a spot in the play-offs is intensifying. The Waratahs, in fourth place, need a big win over the Auckland Blues tomorrow if they are to muscle their way into the top three. However, if they should lose, there are five teams threatening to overtake them. The CA Brumbies, Waikato Chiefs, Queensland Reds, Wellington Hurricanes and the Blues are all within striking distance.

The fifth-placed Brumbies face the Chiefs today, a team one place and one point below them. Ben Afeaki will make his Super debut when he replaces Nathan White, who drops to the bench, at tight-head prop for the Chiefs. "It's definitely a different mindset [from club rugby] and I'm a bit nervous but I'm really keen to get out there and play a bit more than 30 minutes," said Afeaki. "It's a whole different build-up for me at the moment."

Ian Foster, the Chiefs' head coach, said White had exceeded expectations in the first five games after missing most of the past two seasons with back problems. "Nathan's quite excited about a different angle - coming off the bench - and Ben's certainly excited about his first start," said Foster. "The ongoing back issues we've got with James McGougan have meant the three fit props we've got have carried a heavier load and it's been a big learning curve for Ben but one he'll keep making strides in."

Elsewhere, the Reds, chasing three consecutive wins for the first time in six years, visit the Free State Cheetahs today, while the Otago Highlanders host the Golden Lions knowing that all the meetings between these two sides in the past have been won by the home team. * With agencies Highlanders v Lions, 10.35am, Showsports 3; Brumbies v Chiefs, 12.40pm, Showsports 3; Cheetahs v Reds, 9.10pm, Showsports 2