The Lions feel that the Blue Bulls are vulnerable and their youthful team have a realistic chance of causing an upset against the defending Currie Cup champions.
Jan de Koning – Rugby365
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke took a more pragmatic view of this trans-Jukskei derby, saying that both teams were “desperate” for victory.
The Lions and Bulls are both fresh off back-to-back defeats in South Africa’s premier domestic competition – the Lions suffering losses at the hands of Western Province (a 0-32 whitewash) and Griquas (20-26); the Bulls going down 23-25 to the Free State Cheetahs in Pretoria, that after having lost to the Sharks (28-34) in Durban the previous weekend.
Like the Lions, who beat the Leopards 43-13, the Bulls’ only success came in Week One, a 38-15 victory against the Pumas.
However, it was last week’s injury-time loss to the Cheetahs, at Loftus Versfeld, that hurt the defending champions most and Frans Ludeke has urged his side to “bounce back immediately”.
“Our task will not be made any easier by the Lions, who are also smarting after their loss to Griquas last weekend,” Ludeke told a media gathering this week.
“They want to get back to winning ways too and although it is early in the season, one can say it will be a clash between two desperate teams.”
Bulls captain Gary Botha said they were looking to improve week by week and he was happy with his team’s progress, despite the defeats of the last fortnight.
“Losing creates pressure and playing the Lions at their home ground will be a pressure cooker,” Botha said.
“It is our responsibility to adapt to those pressures in a positive way,” the captain added.
New Lions coach John Mitchell, meanwhile, has stuck with his youth policy and has named five players who still qualify to play Under-21 rugby.
Even more significant is the selection of a couple of teenagers in the starting XV – South African Under-20 flyhalf Elton Jantjies and his ‘Baby Bok’ teammate Jaco Taute, the latter still eligible to play in Under-19 competitions.
The counter balance is veteran All Blacks flyhalf Carlos Spencer on the bench, 16 years the senior of Jantjies. Having featured for the Lions in their Super 14 flop, Spencer – the Lions’ backline coach – is set to make his Currie Cup debut.
However, his presence – along with Jantjies in the starting XV – is a clear pointer to the type of rugby the Lions want to play.
And the coach, Mitchell, makes no secret of the fact that his team will go into the game looking to play a far more expansive game against the Bulls.
“Yes, the selection of Elton [Jantjies] and Carlos [Spencer] is an indication that we want to be more ambitious on attack,” Mitchell told a media gathering in Johannesburg.
“Add to that Jano Vermaak, who can also be a real threat [on attack].
“If your flyhalf and scrumhalf are the big threats, it makes the opposition’s defence so much more vulnerable,” the Lions coach added.
The clash between the two scrumhalves, the Bulls’ Francois Hougaard (back from Tri-Nations duty) and the unlucky Vermaak, will be one of the game’s most intriguing sub-plots.
Most recent results:
2007: Blue Bulls won 25-11, Pretoria
2007: Golden Lions won 27-22, Johannesburg
2008: Blue Bulls won 21-7, Johannesburg
2008: Golden Lions won 30-27, Pretoria
2009: Blue Bulls won 19-13, Pretoria
2009: Golden Lions won 20-13, Johannesburg
rugby365.com Prediction: This is one of the most traditional derbies on the domestic scene, where form means little and old values count most. Hard, uncompromising and sometimes even brutal. The key will be how well the Lions pack copes with the Bulls’ well-drilled forwards. The Sharks and Cheetahs have shown that the Bulls can be contained, but with Springboks Dewald Potgieter and Flip van der Merwe back in the mix the visitors have a more menacing look up front. The Lions will make a good fist of it, but the Bulls’ experience will carry them through. The Blue Bulls to win by 10 to 15 points.
Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Trevor Hall, 6 Derek Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe (captain), 4 George Earle, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Carlos Spencer, 22 Marius Delport.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 John Mametsa, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Derick Kuün, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha (captain), 1 Jaco Engels.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Bees Roux, 18 Fudge Mabeta, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Hayden Groepes.
Date: Saturday, July 31
Venue: Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17.05 (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant referees: François Groenewald, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Dennis Immelman