There is no doubt this is a big game Saturday
There will not be a lack of motivation when the Cheetahs and Bulls go head-to-head in their Super Rugby Round 16 encounter in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
It is being billed as a South African Conference decider!
Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie admitted the game - the last full round of action before the June break - will almost certainly decide who finish top of the SA conference and get a top three spot - which brings with it home ground advantage in the play-offs.
"If the Bulls win then nobody can catch them in the SA conference and if we win we are right up there with them and can still overtake them," Fourie told this website in an interview, as his team stepped up preparations for Saturday's big derby.
"It is, for both teams, a very important game and the team that comes out on top [this] week will have a very good chance to win the conference.
"The other team will most likely also be in the top six, but there is no doubt this is a big game Saturday," he said of the standings - which currently have the Bulls in second place on the global log (two points behind the table-topping Chiefs, who have 52 points) and the Cheetahs in fourth (just five points behind the Bulls).
However, for the Cheetahs, who can overtake the Bulls on the standings if they record a bonus-point win and deny the men from Pretoria any points, there is one statistic that counts against them - they have never beaten the Bulls in Super Rugby.
There has been so many 'firsts' for the Cheetahs this year - three consecutive wins on their Australasian tour, a place in the top six, nine wins already (their previous highest was five) and an Australian sweep (beating the Waratahs, Western Force, both Down Under, Rebels and Reds).
However, the Bulls bogey is one they must still erase from the memory banks.
"One of our goals, before the start of the season, was to improve our record against South African teams," Fourie told this website, adding: "In the past we mostly [with one exception] just managed to beat the Lions once a year and lost the other games [against SA teams].
"We have, this year, managed to beat the Stormers and the Sharks."
He said the players believe they have the ability to finally break their Bulls duck.
"Often we had the Bulls in trouble [in Super Rugby games in past years], but allowed them to escape," the Cheetahs' backline mentor said.
"I believe that with our defence, which is much improved on past seasons, if we get our noses ahead on Saturday we will have a good chance to win this one."
The Cheetahs' biggest defeat to the Bulls was a 20-60 hammering back in 2008, while their 23-25 loss two years ago was the closest they came to a win in their 10 previous Super Rugby encounter.
These stats do not take into account when the Free State played before the introduction of the franchise system in 1998, as there was a 35-23 win back in 1997.
The Cheetahs went out on their own in 2006, when they split from the Lions to end the unhappy and unworkable marriage that was the Cats.
By Jan de Koning