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PREVIEW: Blues v Bulls

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Thursday, March 23, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

TALE OF THE TAPE
The Blues have a good record historically against the Bulls, winning 12 of their 20 encounters with one drawn. The sides come into the game with one win apiece this season, the Blues in the first round over the Rebels 56-18 and the Bulls last week against the Sunwolves 34-21.

BLUES' BLITZ
Having swamped the Rebels, and then showing what they were capable of during a dynamic first half in Christchurch last week, the Blues need an 80-minute shot in the arm to give themselves the psychological boost to know they deserve much greater respect in the competition. The Bulls are a key step along the road in that regard but they represent a formidable challenge, especially in their lineout with the likes of lock Lood de Jager and flanker Ruan Steenkamp to overcome.

CAPTAIN'S LEAD
Now retired Springboks captain and hooker Adrian Strauss' return to the Bulls side coincided with last week's win over the Sunwolves, their first of the season, but he knows the success of their New Zealand tour will make or break their season. "You can't, at the beginning of the season, look at the fixture list and choose which games you will do well and which you won't do well. We will fight in every game and for every point," he told the Pretoria News. He believed signs were emerging but his comments were similar to those of his rival hooker, and captain, James Parsons with each saying 'they can create pressure, they just couldn't finish, they just needed to be more clinical, etc, etc'.

THE POLLARD FACTOR
A season or two back Bulls and Springboks first five-eighths Handre Pollard looked a player capable leading a renaissance of South African back play. He even scored two tries in a Test against the All Blacks. But he has been dogged by injury and according to South African reports is struggling to overcome the effects of shoulder and ankle injuries which prevented him playing last year. The Blues wouldn't need him to rediscover his best touches in Albany because at his best he would be more than a handful for most sides. And he knows what is required of the side in Albany. Earlier, when captaining the side in Strauss' absence he said to be competitive the Bulls had to win away from home.

TEAMS:

Blues: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.James Parsons (captain), 3.Charlie Faumuina/Sione Mafileo, 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Patrick Tuipulotu, 6.Jimmy Tupou, 7.Blake Gibson, 8.Jerome Kaino, 9.Augustine Pulu, 10.Piers Francis, 11.Melani Nanai, 12.George Moala, 13.Rieko Ioane, 14.Matt Duffie, 15.Michael Collins.

Substitutes: 16.Matt Moulds, 17.Ofa Tu'ungafasi/Sam Prattley, 18.Sione Mafileo/Tu'ungafasi, 19.Akira Ioane, 20.Murphy Taramai, 21.Sam Nock/Billy Guyton, 22.Ihaia West, 23.TJ Faiane.

Bulls: 1.Lizo Gqoboko, 2.Adriaan Strauss (captain), 3.Trevor Nyakane, 4.Jason Jenkins, 5.Lood de Jager, 6.Ruan Steenkamp, 7.Nick de Jager, 8.Hanro Liebenberg, 9.Piet van Zyl, 10.Handre Pollard, 11.Jamba Ulengo, 12.Jan Serfontein, 13.Jesse Kriel, 14.Travis Ismaiel, 15.Warrick Gelant.

Substitutes: 16.Jaco Visagie, 17.Pierre Schoeman, 18.RG Snyman, 19.Jannes Kirsten, 20.Rudy Paige, 21.Tian Schoeman, 22.Burger Odendaal, 23.John-Roy Jenkinson.