SR PREVIEW: Round Two, Part Two
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The defending champion Hurricanes are preparing to unleash their big guns this weekend, but the pressure is on Super Rugby's lesser lights.
Those comes amid talk of slimming down the 18-team competition.
Governing body SANZAAR meet next week to discuss how to tackle Super Rugby's unwieldy conference structure, exhausting travel schedules and lopsided contests which are now sprawled across 17 time zones and five countries.
One idea is reducing the number of teams to 15, which is putting pressure on several franchises to use this weekend's matches to prove they are worthy of remaining in the set-up.
An underpowered Hurricanes embarrassed Japan's Sunwolves 83-17 last week and that was without top names Beauden Barrett, Dane Coles and Nehe Milner-Skudder - who will make their season debuts against the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday.
New Zealand Rugby Union Chief Executive Steve Tew believes that one massively lopsided scoreline should not be held against the Sunwolves, but added Super Rugby needed matches to be competitive.
"Clearly the expansion has tested a number of countries' abilities to be competitive and that's the challenges we're working our way through," he said.
"There is no secret that we're trying to get an agreement as to what 2018 will look like."
Japan's hosting of the 2019 Rugby World Cup will likely aid the Sunwolves cause, despite the fact they have won only once since being part of Super Rugby's expansion to 18 teams a year ago.
Already there is talk of going back to a 15-team competition next season with South Africa dropping two sides and Australia one.
Both countries are keeping their thoughts under wraps ahead of the meeting, and Waratahs Chairman Roger Davis is angered that the franchises don't get a say.
"It's our franchises and our business, but all the discussions are being handled on our behalf by the national bodies," he said.
"There are a lot of understandably selfish interests going on here.
"A classic situation would be if you were the Western Force and you were bounced out of the competition.
"You don't get to participate in the trial... you are tried, judged and whipped off to jail without any real right of appeal."
We look at all Saturday's matches!
Saturday, March 4
Hurricanes v Rebels
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 17.15; 15.15 AEDT, 04.15 GMT)
The Rebels will be desperate to avoid the hammering that the defending champion Hurricanes put on the Sunwolves.
The Rebels did not have an ideal start to the season, going down 18-56 to the Blues .
This weekend's fixture will only be the third time that the Rebels have played against the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The Rebels claimed the victory in the first meeting between the two sides, before the Hurricanes bounced back to win the last four consecutive matches to lead the head to head record 4-1 from five matches.
Despite last week's rout in Tokyo, Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said the challenge for his team was to put their first up result behind them and prepare for a battle against the Rebels.
"We certainly took some positives away from our first match, but I think there is a realisation among the group that this week represents a big step up and we are expecting the Rebels to be highly motivated after their loss to the Blues," Boyd said.
"I know the players are really excited at the prospect of getting out in front of their home crowd for the first time this year."
2016: Hurricanes won 38-13, Melbourne
2015: Hurricanes won 36-12, Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 25-15, Melbourne
2012: Hurricanes won 66-24, Wellington
2011: Rebels won 42-25, Melbourne
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won all but one of the five previous encounters between these teams, last losing to the Melbourne side in their first ever encounter in 2011. The Hurricanes have won each of their last six games at home, and have conceded just 12 points across their last three home fixtures. The Hurricanes won four of their five games against Australian opposition in Super Rugby 2016, with their only loss coming in the opening round of the campaign against the Brumbies. The Rebels won four games away from home in 2016, the equal most of any Australian team alongside the Brumbies and Waratahs. Vince Aso ate up 164 metres gained in the opening round, 19 more than any other player in the competition and more than twice as many as Rebels' best Jack Maddocks (73). The odds are stacked against the Rebels and only the most ardent fans will put money on them. The Hurricanes will win and it could be by 20 points or more.
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Vince Aso, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Ben May, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Otere Black, 23 Jordie Barrett.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jack Debreczeni, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Nic Stirzaker (captain), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23. Ben Volavola.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: William Houston (Australia), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)
Highlanders v Crusaders
(Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin - Kick-off: 19.35; 06.45 GMT)
These South Island derbies are not for the faint of heart.
Brutal is one way to describe them. But there will also be plenty of skill and pace on display.
Crusaders assistant coach Leon MacDonald said these local derbies mean and the New Zealand teams often tackle them with a lot more vigour.
"As soon as the final whistle blew [after last Saturday's 17-13 win over the Brumbies] the boys were talking about it," McDonald told the Otago Daily Times, when asked about the Crusaders' trip south.
"There was an intense rivalry right back to when Super rugby started.''
He was not taking anything out of the Highlanders' first-up loss to the Chiefs last Friday.
"I thought the Highlanders played really well, but that was not reflected on the scoreboard.
"A couple of turnover tries from their mistakes - a little bit like our game.
"It will not dishearten them but they will be determined to have a win at home. It will motivate them more.''
Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett said they had a look back at their first game and there was plenty of good to come out the loss to the Chiefs.
''We didn't get the result, so that was the bad stuff," Hammett told the Otago Daily Times.
"We under-kicked to a degree. I feel like we're a team that in the past have played better with less possession. We got a heck more than we have ever had.
''So we've just got to get smarter and play the game we want.
"We were rusty and that was clear. But that happens when a lot of your squad has only had 40 minutes and then come in here. So that is going to take a couple of games to get up to speed.''
2016: Highlanders won 34-26, Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 25-20, Christchurch
2015: Crusaders won 26-20, Dunedin
2014: Crusaders won 34-8, Christchurch
2014: Crusaders won 32-30, Dunedin
Prediction: The Highlanders have won their last two games against the Crusaders after losing the six games prior. Never before have the Highlanders won more than two consecutive games against the Crusaders. The Crusaders have won on three of their last four visits to face the Highlanders away from home, though they were handed a 34-26 defeat on their last expedition. The Highlanders have won six of their last seven games when hosting New Zealand teams, though they lost their most recent such fixture to open the 2017 season. The Highlanders were the only side not to score a try in the opening round of action this season. Waisake Naholo beat 10 defenders in the opening round, more than any other player and his most ever in a Super Rugby fixture. It is going to be a thrilling affair, with the Highlanders sneaking a late winner - seven points or less.
Highlanders: 15 Richard Buckman, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon (captain), 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Adrian Smith, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Patrick Osborne.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 George Bridge.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Brumbies v Sharks
(GIO Stadium, Canberra - Kick-off: 19.45; 10.45 SA time; 08.45 GMT)
Both teams are coming off narrow defeats, feeling that with a bit of luck they could have won their opening round matches.
Losing another match will start piling on pressure, even at this early stage of the competition.
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham spoke of the importance of winning your home games if you want to reach the play-offs.
"We have certainly had a good home record over the last couple of years and we want to maintain that," Larkham said.
He admitted it was disappointing to lose, to the Crusaders, last week, but felt there were plenty of positive to take out of the game.
"The crowd would have gone home very satisfied with the effort put in and the attitude of the players," Larkham said of the Brumbies.
"As coaches we never like to lose, but we walk away from that game feeling pretty satisfied," He added.
Sharks centurion Lwazi Mvovo said that while they have done their homework on their opponents, it's really about making sure they accomplish their own goals.
"The Brumbies are a quality side and they played very well against the Crusaders, but it's more about what we want to do and about executing our game plan," Mvovo said.
"This is a very important game for us, we have a plan for this tour and we pretty much want to win this match.
"So it's about getting our game plan right and getting over the little hurdle we had in the first game.
"We really want to end the tour on a high note."
2014: Brumbies won 16-9, Canberra
2013: Brumbies won 29-10, Durban
2012: Sharks won 29-26, Canberra
2011: Sharks won 34-16, Durban
2010: Brumbies won 24-22, Canberra
Prediction: The Brumbies have won six of their last nine games against the Sharks, including each of their last two. The ACT side has won eight of their last nine games when hosting the Sharks, though each of their last six such fixtures have been decided by seven points or fewer. The Sharks have won seven of their last 10 games against Australian opposition, but come into this match off the back of a defeat against the Reds in round one. Chris Alcock won four turnovers in Round 1, more than any other player in any game. Phillip van der Walt made 18 tackles in the opening round, the equal most of any player alongside the Bulls' Jacques Potgieter. It is difficult to go against the home team, but the Sharks will run them close. Brumbies by five points.
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Nic Mayhew.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Leslie Leulua'Iali'I-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Isaac Thompson.
Sharks: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie (captain), 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jordan Way (Australia), Edward Martin (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Sunwolves v Southern Kings
(Singapore National Stadium, Singapore - Kick-off: 18.55; 12.55 SA time; 10.55 GMT)
Not much are expected of either team this year. In fact most people see them as easy bonus-point victory for the majority of the teams.
It is already being suggested this could against be the two teams to finish 18th (Sunwolves) and 17th Kings), as they did last year.
The Kings put up a bit more resistance (losing 26-39 to the Jaguares) than the Sunwolves did (losing 7-83 to the Hurricanes).
Despite that lopsided scoreline against the Japanese franchise, Kings coach Deon Davids is not willing to write them off.
"The Sunwolves are not easy opponents in Singapore," Davids said.
"We expect the Sunwolves to come out firing, after last week's performance," he said of their drubbing at the hands of the defending Super Rugby champion Hurricanes.
"They will challenge us in the set pieces, the scrums and line-outs.
"They also like to play with the ball in hand, at a very high tempo, while they also employed the kicking game very well."
2016: Kings won 33-28, Port Elizabeth
Prediction: The Kings ran out 33-28 victors against the Sunwolves in Round 6 last season in what was the only previous meeting between these two sides. The Sunwolves are yet to defeat any South African opposition and have conceded an average of 46 points across those fixtures. The Kings have lost their last 12 games away from home and have conceded an average of 47 points across those fixtures. The Sunwolves missed 43 tackles and had a tackle success rate of 68 percent in Round One, no other side dipped below 75 percent. Lionel Cronje was successful with all six of his attempts at goal in the opening round, the most goals of any player who is yet to miss an attempt. You can't write the Sunwolves off entirely, given the quality of the opposition, but we feel the Kings will win this by 10 to 15 points.
Sunwolves: 15 Shota Emi, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hayden Cripps, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shokei Kin, 6 Ed Quirk, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Heiichiro Ito, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Hino, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Kotaro Yatabe, 20 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Will Tupou, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Southern Kings: 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Waylon Murray,11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Mzwanele Zito, 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Schalk Ferreira (captain).
Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Justin Forwood, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Chris Cloete, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 23 Luzuko Vulindlu.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds, Akihisa Aso
TMO: Minoru Fuji
Lions v Waratahs
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg - Kick-off: 15.05; 13.05 GMT; 00.05 Sunday, March 5 AEDT)
Both teams came away with scrappy wins and have promised 'improved' performances in Johannesburg.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said he was hoping for a dry track this weekend, so his side can get back to playing the style of game they enjoy.
The Lions, instinctively, also play an expansive game.
However, the weather forecast suggests a thunderstorm at game time is possible.
"The Lions are a strong team and we're expecting them to be formidable at home," Gibson said.
"The team had some frustrations with our game last weekend when we sat down to review the game.
"We know the areas we want to work on coming out of last weekend and just looking forward to playing in front of what we know will be an enthusiastic crowd," he added.
Tahs assistant coach Nathan Grey suggested the bulk of the players will be familiar with whatever conditions they encounter on Saturday.
"The majority of the squad have been to South Africa a number of times and it's all about adjusting from the jet lag, getting your training performances to a high quality and enjoying each others company in a unique environment." Grey said
"It's fantastic being able to tour as a squad early as it is a great opportunity to bunker down and talk footy as well as provide the opportunity to eat and travel everyday with your teammates which is a great bonding exercise."
2015: Lions won 27-22, Johannesburg
2014: Waratahs won 41-13, Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 29-12, Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 73-12, Sydney
2009: Waratahs won 38-33, Johannesburg
Prediction: The Lions scored a five-point win against the Waratahs when these teams last met in Round 16, 2015, snapping a six-game losing streak to the NSW side. That win in 2015 means the Lions now share the spoils at two wins apiece in their four home fixtures against the Waratahs, with each of those games decided by nine points or fewer. The Waratahs are looking to avoid back-to-back away losses for the first time since Round 16, 2015 when they lost to the Lions having lost to the Force before that. Despite making the fewest tackles of any team in the competition in Round One (49), the Waratahs (89 percent) boasted the best tackling success of any team. No player drew the officials’ ire as much as Ruan Dreyer in the opening round, with the Lions’ prop conceding more penalties (five) than any other player. Now that the Lions have that first game jitters out the way, you can put some money on them producing a more accomplished performance and a win - but by less than 10 points.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Francois de Klerk, 22 Sylvian Mahuza, 23 Jaco van der Walt.
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 David Lolohea, 19 David McDuling, 20 Senio Toleafoa, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Stormers v Jaguares
(Newlands, Cape Town - Kick-off: 17.15; 12.15 Argentina time; 15.15 GMT)
The Jaguares have made no secret that they must win the physical contest to overpower a much-improved Stormers team.
"We expect a very physical match," said Matías Moroni, who will play off the bench for the visitors.
"The Stormers have very strong and very heavy players," he said, adding: "They enjoy one-on-one confrontations and surely the team that dominates that facet will be the one that wins."
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck carefully sidestepped the verbal warfare and said his team must first focus on improving their own game.
He said he would like to see his team build on their performance from last week (a 37-24 triumph over the Bulls) as they face a "very competitive" Jaguares team.
"The win last week was encouraging, but there is still much we can improve on and we will be tested against a Jaguares team full of internationals," Fleck said.
Moroni said the contact area will be key.
"We are focusing on the points of contact, the ruck and defence, which were perhaps the weakest aspects of our game against the Kings last week," he said.
"Maintaining possession and discipline - not giving away silly penalties - are also aspects of our game we focussed on improving."
He said the Stormers are one of the best outfits in the African conference.
"They are very difficult to beat at Newlands, but it is the type of game we want to be involved in."
2016: Stormers won 13-8, Buenos Aires
Prediction: The Stormers won a low-scoring affair when they visited the Jaguares in Round Five last season (13-8), the only previous meeting between these franchises. The Stormers have lost only one of their last 12 regular season games against opposition from outside South Africa, including wins in their last two such fixtures. The Jaguares have now won three of their last four games, notching more wins in that period than in all of their 12 prior games in the competition. The Jaguares enjoyed 19 minutes and 47 seconds of possession in the opening round, more than any other side. Joaquin Tuculet recorded the second most carries (18) and metres gained (145) of any player across the opening round of the season. It won't be a walkover, but the Stormers should win by about 12 points.
Stormers: 15 Sarel Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Felipe Arregui, 2 Agustín Creevy (captain), 1 Santiago García Botta.
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Cristian Bartoloni, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Benjamín Macome, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Matías Moroni.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Cheetahs v Bulls
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 19.30; 17.30 GMT)
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith feels the Bulls will be on a revenge mission in Bloemfontein and that the Cheetahs will have to raise the bar considerably.
"The Bulls have very high expectations of doing well this year," Smith told rugby365.
"They have a whole bunch of quality players and look like a team that can be involved in the play-offs.
"They would be disappointed with last week's [24-37] loss [to the Stormers].
"That, along with us beating them in the Currie Cup Final last year, means we expect them to be charged up to take revenge."
Smith said while he saw a lot of impressive plays from all the South African teams, it is far too early to make a call on which sides are fancied for the play-offs.
He admitted most teams are now taking a more expansive approach to the game.
Bulls Nollis Marais dismissed the 'revenge' notion, saying last week's loss was only the first game of the season and a lot can still happen.
"We will get a lot of players back from injury next week," Marais told a media briefing in Pretoria.
"Guys like Jannes Kirsten, Jan Serfontein, Arno Botha and Adriaan Strauss are all coming back."
The big focus for the men from Pretoria this week was the scrums, an aspect in which they were demolished by the Stormers.
"It is obvious there is something we have to fix," Marais said, adding: "It is an issue [scrum coach] Gary [Botha] is working hard on."
He said there are no longer any weak teams in South Africa and that everybody want to play with the ball - a more expansive game.
"We must be up for it," he said of the Cheetahs' high-tempo game.
"We know they try to avoid breakdowns and speed up play - we have prepared for that."
2016: Bulls won 43-17, Bloemfontein
2016: Bulls won 23-18, Pretoria
2015: Cheetahs won 42-29, Pretoria
2015: Bulls won 39-20, Bloemfontein
2014: Bulls won 26-21, Pretoria
2014: Cheetahs won 15-9, Bloemfontein
Prediction: The Bulls have won 15 of their 17 games against the Cheetahs since losing the first ever game between these teams in 1997. The Bulls have scored 30 points or more on seven of their nine excursions away from home to face the Cheetahs. The Cheetahs have lost their last two games when hosting South African opposition, the last time they endured a longer losing streak in such fixtures was a three-game stretch from 2012 to 2013. The Cheetahs had the worst line-out success rate (56 percent, four lost throws) of any side in the opening round. Fred Zeilinga was the only player to score 20+ points in Round One, only once last season did a Cheetahs player achieve this feat (Niel Marais 22 points v Sunwolves). Only because of home ground advantage - the Cheetahs to win by seven points.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (captain), 1 Retshegofaditswe Nché.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Danie Mienie, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Ruan van Rensburg.
Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 Rudolph Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacments: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Renaldo Bothma, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 TianSchoeman, 23 Warrick Gelant.
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning, with additional reporting by AFP
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports