Preview: Chiefs v Bulls

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday 22 May at 7.35pm (NZST)
Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua

Played: 17, 1998-2014 (DNP 2013)
Chiefs wins: 8
Bulls wins: 7
Draws: 2

Chiefs points: 548
Bulls points: 507

Last match: Bulls 34 Chiefs 34, 29.03.15 in Pretoria

Round 15 teams:

Form: While the Chiefs may hold down fourth spot, they have lost their last two games and come up against a team that has had the wood on them in recent years.

Dave Rennie’s men have won just three matches against the Bulls since 2003 over 12 fixtures, and this top six clash could make or break the season for either team – the Chiefs could drop to sixth while the side from Pretoria could conceivably fall to tenth.

Retaining their reputation as one of the best defensive teams in Investec Super Rugby, conceding 219 points and 17 tries over 12 matches, this is the penultimate home game for the Chiefs, and if a fourth straight final’s appearance is to be booked a triumph will be necessary.

The Bulls, sitting sixth overall, gave the Blues a run for their money with an 18-23 loss, and the three-time champions are delicately poised with seven wins from 12 matches.

Their match in Rotorua is followed by games in Canberra and Melbourne before their final regular season fixture against the Cheetahs at Loftus.

While the Bulls missed out in 2014, since 2007 the former Northern Transvaal team (by name) has reached seven Super Rugby Finals Series – and a strong overseas tour will continue this record.

Key players: No Sonny Bill and no Cruden are major losses for the Chiefs backline, but youngsters Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown are names for the future.

Sam Cane’s reputation continues to blossom as one of the most effective tackling forwards so far during the 2015 season, while Hika Elliot’s star is shining, now apparently in the frame for All Blacks selection.

The tourists pack is formidable, captain Pierre Spires leads an experienced second row in the form of Victor Matfield and fellow Test lock Flip van der Merwe, while a strong bench features Dean Greyling and Werner Kruger.

The Bulls back division has been coined as some as robotic, but Handre Pollard remains one of the most dangerous playmakers for his ability to control a match, while Jess Kriel and Bjorn Basson form a fast defensive unit that is doing the business.

Squad update: Rennie has made changed in the front row, with Mitchell Graham starting at loosehead prop while Michael Fitzgerald has been bracketed with former Chiefs and All Blacks player Ross Filipo, who was called into the side earlier this week as cover.

The confirmed starting lock will be joined in the second row by the newly re-signed Johan Bardoul. The only other change to the run on side sees Augustine Pulu assume the starting role at halfback.

Prop Pauliasi Manu and halfback Brad Weber move to the reserves while utility back Tim Nanai-Williams returns to the match day 23.

Frans Ludeke has named Callie Visagie as starting hooker for his team. Visagie moves from the bench and replaces Adriaan Strauss.

Ludeke also made two changes in his loose trio, with Jacques du Plessis and Deon Stegmann starting after playing off the bench against the Blues, and Arno Botha and Lappies Labuschagne this time tasked to provide spark as impact players.

The Chiefs host the Bulls at Rotorua International Stadium on Friday, 22 May, 7.35pm NZST. Click here for tickets.