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Preview: Highlanders v Bulls

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Thursday, March 22, 2007    Sportal.co.nz    Photosport

The Bulls' record at Dunedin is awful - they have never won there - and this week's match promises to be very close.

VENUE & TIME: Carisbrook, Dunedin, Saturday March 24, 15:30 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 11 – Highlanders 8, Bulls/Northern Transvaal 2, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: March 11, 2006 (Pretoria) – Bulls 23-16 Highlanders.

WALKING WOUNDED: After a few weeks where players were going down all over the shop, both teams have settled down on the injury front. Greg Cooper also gets Anton Oliver and Carl Hayman back after All Black camp. Reyno Gerber rejoins the Bulls after a prolonged spell on the sidelines and takes over from Danie Thiart in the front row.

FORM: The Highlanders have been in good nick at Carisbrook, taking maximum points both times. However, the Bulls should be harder than the Stormers or Reds were but that depends on which Bulls team shows up. If it's the uninterested, hangdog lot that played at Christchurch last week, a Highlanders win is a likely; if it's the hard-nosed Bulls of old, the home side will have a tough night. The Bulls won’t smash the Highlanders forwards the way they have cleaned out the Aussie packs and the backs need to offer more than they did last week if Heyneke Meyer's men are to take the points.

WHO'S HOT: Steady rather than brilliant would sum up the Highlanders so far. The best backs have been Nick Evans, who has been dangerous on the break, and Aaron Bancroft looked more than useful in midfield against the Reds. The forwards are, as ever, honest and industrious with Jason MacDonald proving an excellent replacement for Oliver. The loosies will give the Bulls' inside backs a hurry-up. One of the Bulls' star turns has been Fourie du Preez at halfback, although his kicking was both wayward and overdone at Christchurch. Bakkies Botha has been strong since his return and Victor Matfield will lead the playing XV and not the reserves into action this week. The Bulls outside backs have plenty of ability but the line has not fired at all this year.

WE THINK: This is a hard one to pick. Whether the Bulls gave the Crusaders match everything is a question only they can answer but perhaps they fancy their chances more in this one. However, they may have done their tour some real harm with last week’s poor effort and we think the Highlanders will get up by a narrow margin, although we wouldn’t put the rent on it.

TEAMS:

Highlanders:1 – Clarke Dermody, 2 – Jason MacDonald, 3 – Chris King, 4 – Hoani MacDonald, 5 – James Ryan, 6 – Craig Newby, 7 – Josh Blackie (captain), 8 – Ezra Taylor, 9 – Jimmy Cowan, 10 – Nick Evans, 11 – Viliame Waqaseduadua, 12 – Aaron Bancroft, 13 – Matt Saunders, 14 – Lucky Mulipola, 15 – Glen Horton.

Reserves: 16 – Anton Oliver, 17 – Carl Hayman, 18 – Kane Thompson, 19 – Alando Soakai, 20 – Toby Morland, 21 – Callum Bruce, 22 – James Wilson.

Bulls:1 – Guthro Steenkamp, 2 – Gary Botha, 3 – Rayno Gerber, 4 – Bakkies Botha, 5 – Victor Matfield (captain), 6 – Danie Rossouw, 7 – Wikus van Heerden, 8 – Anton Leonard, 9 – Fourie du Preez, 10 – Derick Hougaard, 11 – Bryan Habana, 12 – Wayne Julies, 13 – Frikkie Welsh, 14 – Akona Ndungane, 15 – Jaco van der Westhuyzen.

Reserves: 16 – Jaco Engels, 17 – Danie Thiart, 18 – Pedrie Wannenburg, 19 – Derrick Kuun, 20 – Heini Adams, 21 – Morne Steyn, 22 – Marius Delport.

REFEREE: Stuart Dickinson