Preview: Blue Bulls v Golden Lions
Preview: Blue Bulls v Golden LionsSHARE
It may appear to be a low-key fixture, a curtain raiser to an important Super Rugby game. But there will be plenty at stake when the Blue Bulls host the Golden Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The main course on the menu is the Super Rugby crunch match between the Bulls and the Sharks.
The appetiser, however, is just as delectable – an exciting Blue Bulls selection taking on a very determined Golden Lions team.
The real value in this is for the Lions. They are preparing for their two-match promotion-relegation series against the South Kings later this month – in Port Elizabeth on July 26 and Johannesburg on August 2.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann makes no secret of the fact that they see this as a "full-contact practice session", a way to work on their game ahead of the big day.
"We are still working on things we want to focus on, in terms of our game, especially our attack," Ackermann told this website, when asked about a game where the result is probably less important than the quality of the performance.
"We can't run each other into the ground every day and tackle the living daylights out of each other to work on our defence. You just don't get the same out of training as in match, you just can't replicate that pressure that comes with matches.
"For us it is like a contact training session – we are keen to get match-type pressure."
Ackermann feels that on defence you must test your systems and structure in a game.
"We are just grateful that we have a game," the Lions mentor said, adding: "The Bulls, whether they send an Under-19, Under-21 or a B Team, they simply have such amazing talent."
Ackermann pointed to the Bulls midfield, where they will field Ulrich Beyers and Francois Venter, as an indication of how much depth an talent the Pretoria-based franchise has.
"Those are guys that can play Super Rugby any day. Their depth will be good enough to test us."
Ackermann, who has seen a series of high-profile and very competitive teams pull out of the challenge series in recent months, said it is vital that his charges get game time.
"We can't afford another week without game time, we need the miles on the legs."
The Lions, who has their American tour cancelled and also saw several French teams pull out, produced a good showing in beating a strong Sharks team a fortnight ago.
Then followed a bye and the next two weekends see them face the Blue Bulls and Griquas, before the play-offs.
"We obviously did not want to be off [without a game] last week, we would have liked to have continuity and play another game at that level of intensity- where you face Springboks and Super Rugby players," the Lions coach said.
"The flipside is that last week's break afforded us the opportunity to allow some players to recover from their bumps and bruises.
"The important thing is that we get back into a game and have those contact situations.
"We are just glad the Blues Bulls and Griquas have agreed to play against us."
Prediction: The Blue Bulls will field a very exciting team, a side that features eight players who represented South Africa at the recent IRB Junior World Championship – wing Jesse Kriel, flyhalf Handré Pollard, flank Jacques du Plessis, lock Dennis Visser (all in the starting XV), as well as replacement Irné Herbst (lock), Roelof Smit (flank), Dries Swanepoel and Rohan Janse van Rensburg (both centres). Then there is Cheetahs import Marcel van der Merwe, the prop who will make his Blue Bulls debut after finally recovering from the surgery he underwent since his move to Pretoria. The potential is there for an upset, but there is too much at stake for this Lions team and they are likely to edge ahead late in the game – the Golden Lions to win by 10 to 15 points.
Blue Bulls: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Ulrich Beyers, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudi Paige, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Shaun Adendorff, 5 Dennis Visser, 4 Schalk van Heerden, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Dawie Steyn.
Replacements – from: Bongi Mbonambi, Hencus van Wyk, Christoff Gouws, Irne Herbst, Roelof Smit, Ruan Snyman, Tony Jantjies, Dries Swanepoel, Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Golden Lions: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Lambert Groenewald, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 JJ Breedt, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Guy Cronjé, 22 Lionel Cronjé, 23 Chrysander Botha.
Date: Saturday, July 6
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 16.30 (14.30 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant referees: Eduan Nel, Sieg van Staden
By Jan de Koning