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PREVIEW: Bulls v Highlanders

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Thursday, April 26, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Bulls v Highlanders, April 29 (NZT), 3.15am, Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria.

Played: 20
Won: Bulls 6, Highlanders 13, Drawn 1
Last time: Bulls 10-17 Highlanders, Pretoria, May 13, 2017

FORM

The Bulls have a 50 percent record this year having beaten the Hurricanes (21-19), the Stormers (33-23), the Sharks (40-10) and the Rebels (28-10) – the last three over consecutive weeks. But they have also lost to the Lions (35-49), the Reds (14-20), the Chiefs (28-41) and the Crusaders (14-33). The Highlanders have won five of their seven games but their two losses against the Hurricanes (12-29) and Chiefs (22-27) have been on the road. Their wins have been against the Blues (41-34 and 34-16), the Stormers (33-15), the Crusaders (25-17) and the Brumbies (43-17).

ATTACKING SUCCESS

Much has been made of the more adventurous play of the Bulls this season but they are up against it with a Highlanders side unafraid to attack from anywhere on the field. One inaccurate tactical kick has the capacity to cause all manner of defensive problems for the Bulls. The Highlanders have made 429.4m compared to 364.5 by the Bulls this year and they have beaten 21.6 defenders compared to 19.4 by the Bulls. The Highlanders are also ahead in the offload stakes 9.9 to 6.0 and their tackle percentage is three points better. Coach Aaron Mauger said discipline would be important not only because of the goal-kicking threat that Handre Pollard represents but also because of the ability it provides the Bulls by kicking to the corners and allowing them to unleash their lineout drives. The Bulls do have a 90-83 percent advantage in the lineouts although the Highlanders scrum is operating at 92 percent compared to 86 for the Bulls.

CHANGES IN LOOSE

Several changes have been made to the Bulls side for the game with prop Lizo Gqoboka getting his first start in the wake of the suspension for biting of Pierre Schoeman. Jason Jenkins will have his first start on the flank of the scrum as a result of injury to Roelof Smit while Marco van Staden will play in the openside role with Thembelani Bholi moving to No.8. On the bench are Conrad van Vuuren, who has been suspended while Hendre Stassen will be loose forward cover. Travis Ismaiel has recovered from injury while Embrose Papier returns as halfback cover. Coach John Mitchell expects the Highlanders to approach the game with confidence having beaten the Bulls in four of their last five games. "They have delivered some strong performances as well during the year. That makes for a proper contest and a very good test on our progress. We are improving but we need to improve week by week," he said.

THE SCOOP

If the Bulls can beat the Highlanders it will be the first time since 2013 that they will have beaten two New Zealanders in the same season.

FAST FACT

The Highlanders have won their last four regular season games in South Africa but have never won five in succession while the Bulls go into the game having conceded only 25.6 points per game this year, the least of any team outside the New Zealand conference. (OPTA)

TEAMS:

Bulls: 1.Lizo Gqoboka, 2.Adrian Strauss (captain), 3.Trevor Nyakane, 4.RG Snyman, 5.Lood de Jager, 6.Marco van Staden, 7.Jason Jenkins, 8.Thembelani Bholi, 9.Ivan van Zyl, 10.Handre Pollard, 11.Johnny Kotze, 12.Burger Odendaal (captain), 13.Jesse Kriel, 14.Divan Rossouw, 15.Warwick Gelant.

Substitutes: 16.Jaco Visagie, 17.Frans van Wyk, 18.Conraad van Vuuren, 19.Hendre Stassen, 20.Nic de Jager, 21.Andre Warner, 22.Manie Libbok, 23.Travis Ismaiel.

Highlanders: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Tyrel Lomax, 4.Jackson Hemopo, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Ellio Dixon, 7.Dillon Hunt, 8.Luke Whitelock, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Rob Thompson, 14.Ben Smith (captain), 15.Fletcher Smith.

Substitutes: 16.Ash Dixon, 17.Aki Seiuli, 18.Kalolo Tuiloma, 19.Alex Ainley, 20.Shannon Frizell, 21.James Lentjes, 22.Kayne Hammington, 23.Sio Tomkinson.