Super Rugby: Bulls v Blues preview
Last Updated: 07/03/14 8:59pm
Tony Woodcock: Auckland prop makes first start of season
The Bulls will be desperate to build some momentum when they host a determined Blues side at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Even though they bounced back from consecutive defeats with a win over the Lions last week, the men from Pretoria have yet to hit top form.
In contrast, a far more confident Blues unit will start their two-week tour of South Africa on the back of an empathic win over the Crusaders where the influence of their most experienced forwards complimented the flair and enterprising play Sir John Kirwan's younger charges bring to the game.
Kirwan would have told his men that the first step towards victory over the Bulls is to dominate up front and this is where All Blacks Kevin Mealamu and Tony Woodcock have a huge role to play.
Mealamu and Woodcock will enjoy their first starts of the season at a venue where winning the collisions represents the best way to win the match.
While struggling to get over the try-line, the Bulls have been one of the most impressive sides at set-phase play where the influence of Victor Matfield is becoming more evident as weeks go by.
Their work at scrum-time, in particular, has impressed as they are conceding less penalties in this facet of play while it appears the team has done away with the negative approach they used to have at defensive scrums.
The Bulls will, however, take some comfort in the fact that with the inclusion of fetcher Deon Stegmann, their ability to create turnovers should drastically improve.
Stegmann was the missing link in the team's first three outings and has a huge role to play against Blues skipper Luke Braid, who made some of the best loose forwards in the game look rather ordinary last week.
As for the respective backlines, the Bulls would be wise to keep it among the forwards for sustained periods on end as the strike runners in the Blues backline are known to cause havoc.
When considering their kick-and-charge strategy, the onus will be on fly-half Jacques-Louis Potgieter to execute with precision as a poorly-placed kick will not go unpunished by Frank Halai and company.
Bulls:15 Visser, 14 Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Serfontein, 11 Basson, 10 Potgieter, 9 Hougaard; 1 Greyling, 2 Visagie, 3 Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe (capt), 5 Matfield, 6 Stegmann, 7 Du Plessis, 8 Ross
Replacements: 16 Mbonambi, 17 Mellett , 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Willemse, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Van Zyl, 22 Pollard, 23 Beyers
Blues:15 Piutau, 14 Halai, 13 Moala, 12 Willison, 11 Li, 10 Hickey, 9 Weepu; 1 Woodcock, 2 Mealamu, 3 Faumuina, 4 Moli, 5 Donnelly, 6 Luatua, 7 Braid (capt), 8 Saili
Replacements:16 Parsons, 17 Prattley, 18 Ta'avao, 19 Tuipulotu, 20 O'Connor, 21 Hall, 22 Noakes, 23 Ahki