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Under pressure Blue Bulls face tricky test against Pumas

24 August 2017 - 17:16 By Craig Ray
John Mitchell (Executive of Rugby) during the Vodacom Blue Bulls press conference at Loftus Versfeld on May 25, 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa.
John Mitchell (Executive of Rugby) during the Vodacom Blue Bulls press conference at Loftus Versfeld on May 25, 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

John Mitchell’s first assignment as Blue Bulls coach will be against the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday night after previous coach Nollis Marais was put on gardening leave this week.

Mitchell‚ as the Bulls’ new director of rugby‚ knows what the challenges are that he and the team face to begin their turnaround strategy.

Two wins out of five during the Currie Cup is not good enough for a team that expects to be competing for the title and there has to be a positive change starting on Friday.

In theory‚ a match against the Pumas should be the easiest of the premier division‚ but this week the Bulls will run into a home team buoyed by a superb win over Griquas last weekend.

As a result home coach Brent Janse van Rensburg has only one enforced change to his team with influential flank Chris Cloete sidelined with the flu this week.

Thembelani Bholi replaces him. Suddenly the trip to Mpumalanga looks tricky for the Bulls.

But the Pretoria side have won all five the Currie Cup matches between these teams since 2011‚ with four of their victories away from home.

No 8 Nic de Jager captains a team that shows four personnel changes to last week.

Centre JT Jackson and prop Lizo Gqoboka will earn their first starts for the team‚ while Boom Prinsloo returns to the loose trio in the No 6 jersey.

Western Province will be hunting their third straight win when they meet the Sharks in Cape Town‚ but they will face a challenge from the KwaZulu-Natalians‚ who won their last four games.

The fact that the visitors won three of the last five matches between the sides in the Mother City‚ which included the 2013 Currie Cup final‚ will boost their confidence.

The Sharks made six personnel changes to their team‚ two of which were injury-enforced‚ which sees scrumhalf Louis Schreuder‚ winger Kobus van Dyk and fullback Inny Radebe earn starts‚ while former Junior Springbok captain and centre Jeremy Ward also returns.

WP made only two personnel changes‚ with scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage replacing Jano Vermaak‚ who joined the Springbok squad‚ while Ruhan Nel will start on the wing and Dillyn Leyds at fullback in the absence of the injured SP Marais.

The clash between the Free State Cheetahs and Golden Lions in Bloemfontein will mark a repeat of last year’s Currie Cup semi-final‚ which the hosts won 55-17.

The Gauteng outfit may have lost the last two matches against the defending champions at home‚ but they will draw inspiration from their past successes in the Free Statet with wins in 2015‚ 2014 and 2012.

The Cheetahs made wholesale changes to their team‚ with three Springbok Sevens players included in the squad as Rosko Specman will start and Ryno Benjamin and Cecil Afrika will play off the bench.

The Golden Lions’ starting XV only features three new faces‚ with Ashlon Davids starting at flyhalf‚ while Sylvian Mahuza takes over on the right wing and James Venter will start in the No 6 jersey.

- TimesLIVE