How the Force can beat the Blue Bulls
The Force have been brought down to earth with a wallop. With their recent defeat suffered against the Rebels, the Force must look on their home fixture with the Blue Bulls of Pretoria as an opportunity to get back on track.
The Blue Bulls have stumbled through the season thus far with a mediocre run of results. They sit ninth on the ladder with three wins, five losses and a draw versus the Chiefs. They have been on tour for almost a month now, but have been picked off by every side they faced away from home.†
The intensity of previous seasons doesnít seem to be present this season in the Bull's performances. Injuries to key men such as Poitgeiter and Pierre Spies have deprived the Bulls of the experience needed to go to New Zealand and Australia and claim victory. The Bulls are a side in decline, most of the star players that littered their panel over the last few years now don shirts in the Top 14 or ply their trade with other mercenaries in Japan.
The next generation of Bulls havenít quite fired yet. They still play in the same brutal and direct manner of their predecessors, just not with the same authority or accuracy. Their team sheet doesnít bristle with the same menace it did a few years ago, when teams were almost beaten before they took the field. For almost a decade the Loftus Versfeld stadium was an impregnable fortress, but now the Antipodean sides travel with confidence to Pretoria and are willing to take the Bulls head on in the physical exchanges.
The still have a few notable feathers in their cap though. Their physical size always represents a tangible obstacle for opponents and their direct style of play can be intimidating. Victor Matfield still remains one of the best line out technicians around, and even in his dotage, he can be effective in the set piece. Francois Hougaard is still a busy little operator at the base of the scrum and in JJ Engelbrecht, they have the future of Spingbok centre play.
The Force start with a slightly stronger line up than last week. Jayden Hayward, who has had a stellar season thus far, slots back into full back with Haylitt-Petty sliding over to the wing. The absence of Alby Matthewson is not so much a hole in the team sheet as a gaping chasm, but with game time under his belt, Ian Prior must surely come on from last weeks mediocre display.
There is a good consistency about the forward pack selection and the hope is that a tired Bulls team may not be quite as insurmountable as a fired up Rebels side. Victor Matfield aside, there is a huge deficit in super rugby experience in favour of the Force. The performance against the Rebels looked a little a bit flat which can be expected due to the murderersí row of sides they have faced and taken out in the last month and a half, but a good week of recovery should stand the Force in good stead.
The prediction this week is a reluctant nod for the Force. The Bulls have stumbled and stuttered on tour, and away from home they look unsure of themselves. Their number ten Poitgeiter is a poor imitation of Morne Steyn and they certainly lack direction and leadership. They are not all that fearsome defensively and many a side has been able to rip them apart this season. The fact that the Bulls felt it necessary to recall a two year retired veteran to lead the side smacks of desperation.†
This Bulls side is vulnerable and there for the taking. The ball is firmly in the Forceís court. If they can summon even seventy or eighty percent of their heroic efforts against the Chiefs and Waratahs, it should be enough to dispatch the Bulls. It must be stated that Matthewson is a massive loss, but I feel that the Bulls arent really good enough to expose his absence. Its imperative that the Force get off to a good start and keep the scoreboard ticking over and the heart and stamina will disappear from the Bulls.
For me a 23-15 victory by the Force looks about right.
Over and out,