Preview: Bulls v Reds

The Bulls will hope to make up ground on the Stormers when they take on the touring Reds at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Nollis Marais and his young squad are unbeaten through their last five matches, including four wins, the most recent coming last weekend when they ran six tries past the Kings.

In fact the Bulls have won seven and drawn one of their last nine matches at home in Super Rugby.

After the exodus of so many experienced players, young gems are starting to make themselves known in the Bulls pack.

Jason Jenkins and RG Synman hold a total of 12 Super Rugby appearances between them but appear to be just starting to fill the remarkably large holes left of the great Bulls locks of yesteryear.

However they, and their side, have a long way to go. None of those wins have come against teams in the top half of table, and the Bulls are yet to embark on a tour to Australasia which includes visits to the Force, Brumbies and Waratahs.

It's been a bright start, and the Bulls are going as well as can be expected given the loss of Springbok star Handré Pollard prior to the start of the season. Big challenges await however, starting with the visit of the upstart Reds to Pretoria.

The revival of the 2011 champions under new co-coaches Matt O'Connor and Nick Stiles continued with last weekend's shock win over the Highlanders, in which the Reds played one of the first halves of the season before they battled away to cling on at the end.

Time was always going to be needed in order to move on from the Genia-Cooper-Horwill era and now the likes of Nick Frisby, Karmichael Hunt and Samu Kerevi are threatening to emerge as reliable playmakers.

Kerevi in fact made 164 metres over the gainline in the last round, the most by any player in a Super Rugby match this season.

With a win under their belt O'Connor and Stiles will hope that their young group play with no fear away in South Africa, with Saturday being the first of two games before travelling to face the Stormers.

Recent form though is not on their side. The Reds have won just two of their last 11 matches away from home, though one of those two wins came in South Africa against the Cheetahs in Round 10, 2015.

The last time these teams met: A high-scoring contest last year as the Bulls outscored the Reds six tries to four at Loftus to win 43-22. Francois Hougaard crossed twice for the Bulls in the first half, and was joined on the scoresheet by Pierre Spies, Marcel van der Merwe, Burger Odendaal and Piet van Zyl, as Jacques-Louis Potgieter and Tian Schoeman shared the kicking duties. Lachie Turner, Will Genia, Nick Frisby and Marco Kotze were the scorers for the Reds.

Players to watch: Having been left without a club at the start of the season following his exit from the Kings, SP Marais responded by scoring twice on his debut. Adding him gives the Bulls' attack an extra dimension – he made a competition-high six offloads in Round 7, the second most in a single game this season. Marais taking the full-back slot also allows Jesse Kriel to continue to develop at outside centre. Jannes Kirsten has proven to be a tackling workhorse in the number seven jersey.

Every side needs a good workhorse meanwhile and Japan flanker Hendrik Tui has been just that on the blindside for the Reds, regularly topping both their carrying and tackling stats this season even in defeat. Having back the captain James Slipper was a massive boost last weekend and he'll be needed to excel up against a hungry Bulls front row.

Team news: Bulls coach Nollis Marais has made three changes to his backline. Bjorn Basson replaces Jamba Ulengo on the wing, Francois Brummer trades jerseys with Tian Schoeman at fly-half, with the latter moving to the bench and Rudy Paige returns from injury. Paige replaces Piet van Zyl, who moves to the bench.

The Reds have made one change to their starting line-up that recorded their first win last week. Second-rower Ben Matwijow gets his first start of the season as he replaces Rob Simmons with the latter missing out on selection due to injury.

Form: Since their Round One loss to the Stormers it's been a five-game unbeaten streak for the Bulls, drawing with the Sharks and registering wins over the Rebels, Sunwolves, Cheetahs and Kings. 

Prior to last week's win the Reds had lost four and drawn one of their opening five matches. The Reds have won three of their last five matches against the Bulls, though the South African side earned victory with a 43-22 win when they last met in Round 9, 2015.

Prediction: Stunning the Highlanders was just what the Reds needed, but the Bulls' record at home gives them the edge in this one. Bulls by eight.

Previous results:

2015: Bulls won 43-22 in Pretoria
2013: Reds won 23-18 in Brisbane
2012: Bulls won 61-8 in Pretoria
2011: Reds won 39-30 in Brisbane
2010: Reds won 19-12 in Brisbane
2009: Bulls won 33-20 in Pretoria
2008: Reds won 40-8 in Brisbane
2007: Bulls won 92-3 in Pretoria

The teams:

Bulls: 15 SP Marais, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboko, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Deon Stegmann, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dan Kriel 

Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Ben Matwijow, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Sef Fa'agase, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Lukhan Tui, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Ayumu Goromaru 

Date: Saturday, April 16
Venue: Loftus Versfeld
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs, Jaco van Heerden
TMO: Johan Greeff