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Preview: Bulls v Blues

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Thursday, March 6, 2014    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played: 18, Blues 11, Bulls 6, Drawn 1

LAST TIME: Blues 21 lost to Bulls 28, Eden Park, March 10, 2013

WALKING WOUNDED: The Blues left second five-eighths Ma'a Nonu (injury) and loose forward Jerome Kaino (just back from Japan) behind when they flew to Pretoria. Add to that list lock Culum Retallick and second five-eighths Francis Saili who have longer term injuries. Deon Stegmann returns to the flank of the scrum for the Bulls after a groin strain. However, longer term casualties for the side this season have been loose forward Pierre Spies whose arm injury will keep him out for six months and Arno Botha's knee which has him out of action for five months. No.8 Grant Hattingh dropped out of consideration due to injury while Frik Kirsten's back injury sees him replaced at tighthead by Werner Kruger.

FORM: The Bulls had a slow start to the season, losing to the Sharks in their first outing and then going down to the Cheetahs. They got back on the board against the Lions last weekend but without setting the world on fire. The Blues gained a massive surge to their confidence by beating the Crusaders with some powerful play and while they have not yet managed to achieve consistency, it's too early for that, they have the chance against the Bulls.

WE THINK:
The Blues have some inexperienced players making their first visit to the high veldt but the older hands should have schooled them up, not only about the effects of altitude but also about the way in which the Bulls will try and inflict muscle on them. However, the Blues are well capable of mixing it in their own way and the all-round flair through the side should help them get the chance to play their attacking game. Discipline will again be important to take the teeth out of the home team's goal-kicking abilities. The Blues may never have a better chance to get a win at Loftus Versfeld and they should do that comfortably if able to advance their game from that seen at Eden Park last weekend.

TEAMS:

Bulls: 1.Dean Greyling, 2.Callie Visagie, 3.Werner Kruger, 4.Flip van der Merwe (captain), 5.Victor Matfield, 6.Deon Stegmann, 7.Jacques du Plessis, 8.Jono Ross, 9.Francois Hougaard, 10.Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 11.Bjorn Basson, 12.Jan Serfontein, 13.JJ Englebrecht, 14.Akona Ndungane, 15.Jurgen Visser.

Reserves: 16.Bongi Mbonambi, 17.Morne Mellett, 18.Marcel van der Merwe, 19.Paul Willemse, 20.Jacques Engelbrecht, 21.Piet van Zyl, 22.Handre Pollard, 23.Ulrich Beyers.

Blues: 1.Tony Woodcock, 2.Keven Mealamu, 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Liaki Moli, 5.Tom Donnelly, 6.Steven Luatua, 7.Luke Braid (captain), 8.Peter Saili, 9.Piri Weepu, 10.Simon Hickey, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Jackson Willison, 13.George Moala, 14.Frank Halai, 15.Charles Piutau.

Reserves: 16.James Parsons, 17.Sam Prattley, 18.Angus Ta'avao, 19.Patrick Tuipulotu, 20.Brendon O'Connor, 21.Bryn Hall, 22.Chris Noakes, 23.Pita Ahki.

REFEREE:
Andrew Lees