||Join us again shortly when the Hurricanes take on the Crusaders at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.|
||After both teams exchange a couple of kicks. The force decide to keep the ball and Morahan breaks from halfway and sprints for the tryline, but is brought down short by Visinia. The Blues turn it over and Visinia kicks the ball out for FULL-TIME: Blues 41-24 Force.|
||Ebersohn misses the conversion and it is now 41-24 to the Blues.|
||The Force go for the driving maul before Ebersohn sends a cross-kick which is taken well by Visinia. Play is brought back for another Force penalty and the choose another line-out. They form the maul again before Koteka splits. The ball goes wide and McCalman dives over for the try!|
||The ball does not come out of the ruck on the Blues 22 and the Force will get another chance with scrum. This time they win a penalty and they take it quickly with Dane Haylett-Petty nearly slicing through. They get another penalty with the Blue offside and this time they choose a 5m line-out.|
||After an arm-wrestle on the ground the Force get a penalty on their own 10m line and Ebersohn gives his team a line-out on the Blues 10m line. They go to the midfield with Morahan before going the other direction but are met with some stern defence|
||Ebersohn adds the conversion and the score reads 41-19|
||The Force have the ball now in the Blues 22 with Heiberg making some good metres. They get a penalty. Louwrens takes it quickly and dives over for the try!|
||West adds the extras and the Blues now lead 41-12|
||The home side wins the line-out and take it through a few phases before a grubber by West give Force a line-out deep in their own 22. The line-out is not straight and the Blues get an attacking scrum 8m from the Force tryline. From the scrum Gibson-Park snipes for the tryline but it is turned over by the Force. The blues run it back and West takes a good ball in the 22 and is in for the fifth try!|
||The Force now go onto the attack in the Blues half but they hold onto the ball again and the Blues get a penalty with West giving his side a line-out deep in the Force half|
||The Blues run the ball back from their own half and Visinia is in acres of space. The home side wins a penalty about 30m out from the Force tryline and West converts the penalty for the Blues to lead 34-14|
||Ebersohn misses the conversion and the score is now 31-12 to the Blues|
||The Force, from attacking line-out just outside the Blues 22. Take the ball up with some one-off runners and it works as they are 10m from the Blues tryline. They win a penalty and opt for a 5m line-out. They form the maul and Hodgson is in for the try!|
||The Force loses the ball forward from the line-out and the Blues spread it wide with Nanai again in space. The Force turn it over again near halfway and Ebersohn kicks the ball away again. The visitors get the ball back from a kick before they lose it and O'Connor is in space. The Force win a penalty deep in their own half with the Blues holding one|
||The game is really opening up now as both teams set on running the ball. After a few turnovers the ball is kicked down field by the Force before Visinia finally finds touch just outside the Blues 22.|
||Burton land the conversion and it is now 31-7|
||The Force now have possession in the Blues 22 after some good sniping runs and Cowan slips through a tack to score the Force's first try!|
||West adds the conversion and the Blues lead 31-0|
||The Force wins a free-kick from the scrum and the find touch in the Blues half. The home side takes it quickly with Ioane getting the ball after the few phases and he races away from halfway beating three defenders to score the bonus point try for the Blues|
||From the line-out the Blues form the maul but cannot do anything with it as the Force win the scrum 10m from their own tryline.|
||The Blues now get a penalty on the Force 10m line and West finds a good touch to give his team a line-out in the Force 22.|
||Visinia adds the extras and they now lead 24-0|
||The Force get the ball back from a Blues kick and they make their way into their opponents half before a kick goes out on the full. The Blues cannot do anything with their ball and it goes into touch again for a Force throw in. The Force lose the ball forward and the home side gets a scrum. From the scrum the ball goes wide with Moala in space. He passes to O'Connor who gives it to Nanai for his second try!|
||SECOND HALF: Force flyhalf Sias Ebersohn gets the game back under way!|
||Bowden adds the extras and the Blues lead 17-0 at HALF-TIME.|
||The Blues form the driving maul from the line-out before Ioane takes the ball up and is brought down just short of the tryline. Woodcock then takes the ball up and looks to be over for the try. It is referred to the TMO who says it is inconclusive if its a try. The Blues get another scrum and Luatua picks it up from the back and drives his way over for the try!|
||The Blues get another penalty with a player taken out in the air at the line-out and a brilliant kick from Bowden gives his team an attacking line-out in the Force 22.|
||After a reset, the Blues clear through Cowan and the Force have a line-out near the Blues 10m line. It is not taken cleanly by Cottrell and the Blues get the ball. The force get the ball back and they send a high ball but Dane Haylett-Petty takes a player out without the ball and he gets the yellow card.|
||From the 5m scrum, the Force go to Cummins who loses the ball into contact and the Blues get a defensive scrum five metres from their own tryline.|
||A good kick by Ebersohn gives the Force a line-out on halfway and the away side forms the maul before Louwrens sends a high ball and the Blues cannot gather and the Force are now just 5m from the tryline and will get a scrum after a Blues knock-on.|
||The Blues win the the line-out and slowly make their way towards the Force 22 with Luatua making some hard yards. Hodgson steals the ball and the Force win the penalty inside their own 22.|
||From the scrum deep in their own 22, the Blues clear through Cowan but he does not find touch. Haylett-Petty runs it back and the Force are back outside of the Blues 22m. Again they cannot do anything with it and the Blues get a penalty. Bowden gives his team a line-out on the Force 10m line.|
||The Force now go in search of try of their own and are just 5m from the Blues tryline with Louwrens doing good work on the flanks but the ball is held up and the Blues get a defensive scrum 10m from their own tryline now.|
||Bowden adds the extras and the Blues lead 10-0|
||The Blues, from the scrum, go wide with Nanai Vai in space down the touchline. The Force tuen it over after two more phases and kick before Visinia kicks into touch near the Force 22. After two quick line-out throws the Blues find themselves back inside the Force half before Nanai Vai is in space again from a Cowan pass and races away for the try in the corner!|
||From a line-out inside their own half the Force go to the midfield before Ebersohn kicks, which is too far and goes dead and the Blues will get an attacking scrum in the midfield just inside the Force half of the field.|
||Bowden will go for polls from almost right in from from the high tackle penalty and misses it completely with the score remaining 3-0|
||The Force steal the ball from the line-out before Moala turns it over for the Blues. Saili finds space and takes the ball over halfway before it goes wide with Visinia now in space on the touchline. The Blues, mow in the Force 22, get a penalty after a high tackle.|
||From the scrum The blues are put under pressure before they win a penalty with Hodgson not rolling away. Bowden gives his team a line-out just on the Blues side of halfway.|
||The Force go on the attack from the scrum but are met with some good defence outside the Blues 22 before the ball is lost forward for a Blues scrum just outside their own 22.|
||The home side wins the line-out and take the ball wide before it is lost forward and the Force get a scrum. From the scrum Ebersohn kicks deep. The Force get the ball back after a high ball and after a few phases get a scrum on the Blues 10m line|
||Cummins wins a high ball in the Blues half before Mafi drives forward as the Force are just 5m from the Blues 22. The Force cannot do anything with it as they hold onto the ball and the Blues win a penalty. Bowden gives his team a line-out near the Force 10m line|
||Burton misses the penalty and the score remains 3-0 to the Blues.|
||Ioane finds space now and he breaks into a gap and makes his way over halfway. The ball is lost forward and the Force kicks down field. The Force win a penalty after a Blues obstruction and Burton sets up the kick for polls.|
||Bowden lines-up the kick from about 35m out and he converts the penalty and the Blues lead 3-0|
||The Blues go on the attack straight from the restart and they get a penalty about 15m from the Force 22 after a player from the visiting team failed to roll away|
||KICK-OFF: Blues flyhalf Dan Bowden gets the game under way!|
||The Blues have won 10 of their last 12 home games against Australian opponents.|
||The Force have beaten the Blues just once in Super Rugby, however that win did come away from home (2008).|
||Welcome to live coverage of Round 12 of Super Rugby with the Blues taking on the Force at Eden Park in Auckland.|
It is getting tight at the front-end of the Super Rugby play-off race. Jan de Koning looks at Saturday's matches.
It is getting tight at the front-end of the Super Rugby play-off race.
Just 10 points separate teams one to six, the current play-off spots, with seven more rounds to go. And with another three teams just three points outside of that, it means every defeat now could be cataclysmal.
Saturday's action start with two teams already well out of the race and playing just for pride - the 14th-placed Blues hosting the last-placed Western Force in Auckland.
After that it gets real interesting.
The table-topping Hurricanes host a desperate Crusaders team - the latter three points off the play-off pace - in Wellington.
The Rebels, with nothing more than a mathematic chance of making the play-offs, could do some serious harm to the Chiefs' prospects when they meet in Melbourne.
The day concludes with two all-South African derbies.
The first is in Bloemfontein where the Cheetahs, playing for little more than pride, host the South African conference leaders, the Stormers.
The Bulls, who conceded first place in the SA conference to the Stormers with a two-point defeat last week, host the high-flying Lions in Pretoria - the latter looking to extend their record-breaking five-match winning streak and improve their own play-off prospects.
We look at all Saturday's matches!
Saturday, May 2
Blues v Western Force
(Eden Park, Auckland - Kick-off: 17:30; 13:30 AEST, 05:30 GMT)
John Kirwan's name remains in the headlines.
That is because his team has failed to live up to their pre-season hype and the vultures are circling.
It emerged this week that Kirwan put a resuscitation plan on the table that includes luring Crusaders assistant coach Tabai Matson to Auckland next year.
Reports in the New Zealand media suggest Kirwan is pushing for Matson to come on board as an assistant next year, with an eye to taking the reins the following season - with Kirwan stepping into an overseeing high performance role.
However, all this off-field talk is doing little to help solve the current on-field troubles.
And they will be up against a desperate Force team stuck on bottom of the table with 10 points; one behind both the Blues and Reds.
The Force haven't won since beating the Waratahs in their season-opener.
The subsequent nine-match losing run is the equal worst in the Force's 10-year history, and the team is desperate to snap back to the winners' list this week.
The Force were plucky against the Chiefs last Friday, scoring three tries in the second half.
Coach Michael Foley said the signs are there that his team's fortunes are changing.
"There was some good improvement in our ability to identify and take opportunities against the Chiefs," Foley said.
"This week we take on an experienced Blues side that contains a number of dangerous ball runners.
"To that end, while maintaining our attack is a focus, our defence will be the foundation of a good performance."
2014: Blues won 40-14, Perth
2012: Blues won 32-9, Auckland
2011: Blues and Force drew 22-all, Perth
2010: Blues won 38-17, Auckland
2009: Blues won 25-19, Perth
2008: Force won 27-17, Albany
Prediction: The Blues have won 10 of their last 12 home games against Australian opponents. The Force have beaten the Blues just once in Super Rugby, however that win did come away from home (2008). Five of those six defeats have been by margins over 20 points. After defeat to the Chiefs last weekend, the Force are now winless in their last four against New Zealand sides by an average margin of 22 points. Defeat for the Force would signal their worst ever run of form in Super Rugby. They are enduring a nine-match losing streak, something which previously occurred at the beginning of their first campaign in 2006. The Blues' 29-15 loss to the Crusaders was their heaviest defeat in over a year, but their 11th defeat in 12 matches. In this dance of the desperates we are going with the home team and say the Blues will win by eight points.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau. 14 Lolagi Visinia, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala/Hamish Northcott, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (captain), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis/Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Hamish Northcott/Tevita Li.
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman/Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp/Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Marcel Brache, 23 Junior Rasolea.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Hurricanes v Crusaders
(Westpac Stadium, Wellington - Kick-off: 19:35; 07:35 GMT)
The Hurricanes will be under renewed pressure to hold on to their one-point lead over the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference, when they host the seven-time Super Rugby champions Crusaders.
The Hurricanes, beaten only once in nine games this season, have had some mighty tussles with the Crusaders at home in recent years and this will be another test of their credentials for a first-ever Super Rugby title.
The Wellington-based team will be boosted by the return from injury of hooker Dane Coles, fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder and wing Cory Jane.
However, captain Conrad Smith reckons the All Black-laden Crusaders are exactly the type of 'banana skin' that could spell trouble for the ambitious Hurricanes.
The match marks the start of a stretch of six New Zealand derby games in their last seven for the Hurricanes.
It is worth noting that the Hurricanes have a very poor record in derby matches, winning less than 50 percent of the time against their compatriots.
"All derby games, there's always a little bit more on the line," Smith told NZ Newswire.
"We're certainly excited about it but we're not in any way forgetting how much more work we've got to do.
"We know there are few Kiwi teams licking their lips at the chance of getting a crack at us."
Smith also knows that the Hurricanes have a huge target on their collective backs.
"In some ways you can be a victim of your own success."
2014: Hurricanes won 16-9, Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 29-26, Christchurch
2013: Crusaders won 25-17-, Christchurch
2013: Hurricanes won 29-28, Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 23-22, Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 42-14, Wellington
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won nine of their last 11 home matches and have not lost two in a row (in one season) in Wellington since July 2013. The Canes have won four of the last five meetings between the sides after previously enduring a run of one win in 11 against the Crusaders. Those four wins have been by a combined margin of 12 points. The Crusaders won their last away fixture, however their previous two away wins were each followed by back-to-back away defeats. The Hurricanes (94.1 percent) and Crusaders (94 percent) rank first and second for scrum success rate this season. The Hurricanes (12) and Crusaders (10) have scored the most tries when starting out with the ball inside their own half. The Hurricanes' reinforced forward pack is what has changed them from pretenders to contenders and will see them edge the Crusaders in an arm-wrestle - by less than 10 points.
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Callum Gibbins, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 James Marshall.
Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 David Havili, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Shane McDermott (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)
Rebels v Chiefs
(AAMI Park, Melbourne - Kick-off: 19:40; 21:40 NZST, 09:40 GMT)
The Rebels see themselves as genuine play-off contenders, even though most pundits regard them as also-rans.
The Melbourne-based outfit is 11th on the standings with 20 points, only eight points adrift of the sixth-placed Highlanders.
They are keen to show they are not just all talk and feel the Chiefs are the perfect opposition to prove their credentials.
Wallaby back Dom Shipperley said the Rebels are determined to make amends for last week's two-point loss to the defending champion Waratahs.
"We see this week as a week to get back on track and square up our ledger," Shipperley told the Herald Sun.
"We really need a launch pad to win a few games in a row and move up the table.
"The middle of the table is congested right now and three wins in a row can really move you up.
"That's what we're setting out to do and getting our momentum going this week."
The Chiefs have won all three previous encounters with the Rebels, but want to address defensive shortcomings after conceding four tries to the Western Force last week.
"We've certainly done a fair bit of work on defence," coach Dave Rennie said.
"The boys understand it needs to be a hell of a lot better this week."
The Chiefs are fourth on the overall table, but are just one point behind competition leaders the Hurricanes in the New Zealand conference.
2014: Chiefs won 22-16, Hamilton
2013: Chiefs won 39-33, Melbourne
2011: Chiefs won 38-10, Hamilton
Prediction: The Chiefs have won all three meetings between these two sides, however the last two yielded a losing bonus point. The Chiefs have won four in a row; their best run in a single campaign since racking up six straight victories in June 2013. The Hamilton-based side has won three of their last four away games, whilst their last three losses away from home have all been by fewer than five points. The Melbourne outfit has lost five of their last six against New Zealand teams, scoring over 20 points in just one of those games. The Rebels have scored the fewest second half tries this season (six), less than half as many as the Chiefs (13). The Chiefs rank joint third in terms of tries scored this season (27), while no side has scored fewer than the Rebels (15). The Rebels talk a good game, but we feel the Chiefs have too much class and should with by about 15 points.
Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Sefanaia Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Jordy Reid, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Tom English, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Andrew Horrell, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (captain), 5 Mike Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Jamie Mackintosh, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Johan Bardoul, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Bryce Heem.
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Cheetahs v Stormers
(Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein - Kick-off: 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
The Stormers will be out to protect their lead in the South African conference against the unpredictable and very dangerous Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, where they haven't won since 2012.
The Cape Town-based Stormers leapfrogged the Bulls to the top of the conference with a 15-13 win last week.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said they will have the same mind-set as they do for all South African derbies.
"We understand how tough these games are and we know we need to pitch up," Coetzee told a media briefing in Cape Town.
"The Cheetahs pushed the in-form Lions in Johannesburg last week, they're a good side - especially in Bloemfontein - and we know this will be a tough match."
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotské made several changes to his backline from the team that went down to the Lions in Johannesburg last week.
Scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius is the only player who retains his spot, while Joe Pietersen moves back to flyhalf after wearing the No.15 jersey last week.
The Stormers are familiar with the threat posed by Pietersen, who was based in Cape Town for a decade - before moving to Biarritz in 2013 and then joined the Cheetahs this year.
"Joe Petersen will always have a massive influence, whichever team he plays for," Coetzee said.
"However, we don't focus on Joe. It has been a long time since he has been at the Stormers - a lot of things have changed since he was here.
"When he was here we played a kick and chase game, based on solid defence, and it has changed since then."
2014: Stormers won 33-0, Cape Town
2014: Cheetahs won 35-22, Bloemfontein
2013: Stormers won 28-3, Cape Town
2013: Cheetahs won 26-24, Bloemfontein
2012: Stormers won 13-6, Bloemfontein
2012: Stormers won 16-14, Cape Town
Prediction: The last four meetings between these two sides have been won by the home side on the day (two wins each). The Cheetahs have scored fewer than seven points in three of their last five games against the Stormers. The Stormers have won nine of the last 11 meetings between these conference rivals. In the most recent meeting between the teams the Stormers rendered the Cheetahs scoreless. It was the only time the Cheetahs have been blanked in Super Rugby. The Cheetahs have won a lower proportion of scrum feeds (80 percent) than any other side while the Stormers have produced the most scrum steals (six). The Cheetahs have averaged the most turnovers won this season (9.6). However, opponents of the Stormers have averaged fewer turnovers won (5.6) than against any other team. The Cheetahs have the ability to comeback even when they are down by two scores or more. That makes them dangerous. However, it the Stormers remain composed they should win by at least 10 points.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Sergeal Petersen, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Johannes Prinsloo, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen/Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Dolph Botha, 18 Nicolaas van Dyk/Ewald van der Westhuizen, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Carel Greeff, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Danie Dames.
Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Oliver Kebble.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha and Rodney Boneparte
TMO: Johan Greeff
Bulls v Lions
(Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Kick-off: 19.10; 17.10 GMT)
The return of veteran Victor Matfield grabbed the headlines, but it is a match that is crucial to both teams' campaigns in the tightly-contested South African conference.
Just four points separate the Stormers - first in the conference - and the Lions.
It means by the end of the weekend the Lions could find themselves at the top of the SA conference - if they get a bonus point win at Loftus and the Cheetahs upstage the Stormers, while also prevents the Cape Town outfit from getting any points.
The Bulls just needs a win to reclaim their place at the top of the SA totem pole, but only if the Cheetahs win.
Despite last week's loss - when Stormers captain Duane Vermeulen charged down a last-minute drop-goal attempt by Handré Pollard - the Bulls feel they are playing well enough to remain in the play-off race.
"We are getting into the rhythm to play the type of match we want to play," Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said.
"Our defence structure is good and we are very competitive in every match we play.
"We need to tweak some aspects of our game though, but I am confident that we are creating a style of play that will make us contenders in the play-off stages of the competition."
The Bulls know they are going to be tested by a Lions team that is once again full of running and willing to go the full 80 minutes ... and then some.
Bulls captain Victor Matfield said they are facing a team that expresses their personality on the field.
"We are also a squad that are proud of being the most successful local franchise ever," Matfield said.
However, you are only as good as your last match though and we came up short then.
"We need a solid performance before we go on tour, so a win is pretty much non-negotiable."
2015: Lions won 22-18, Johannesburg
2014: Lions won 32-21, Johannesburg
2014: Bulls won 25-17, Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 37-20, Pretoria
2012: Bulls won 32-18, Johannesburg
2011: Bulls won 30-23, Pretoria
2011: Bulls won 24-20, Johannesburg
Prediction: After previously being winless in 11 games against the Bulls, the Lions have won the last two contests between these rivals. The last eight encounters between the Bulls and Lions have seen at least 40 points scored per game and an average of 50. The Bulls have lost just two of their last 24 home games in the regular season, with their back-to-back home defeats at the start of the season the only blemishes on that record. The Lions have won five Super Rugby matches in a row for the first time, though each of these wins came by margins of five or less. The Lions have scored the fewest first half tries (five) in 2015 and less than half as many as the Bulls (12). The Lions do have a very good chance of causing an upset, but this is at Loftus Versfeld and the smart money is on the Bulls to win a thriller by less than 10 points.
Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Pieter Labuschagne, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Andrew Beerwinkel, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Pierre Spies, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Jurgen Visser.
Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Andries Coetzee, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Alwyn Hollenbach, 23 Courtnall Skosan.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Compiled by Jan de Koning
Statistical information provided by Opta Sports
The Blues managed to pick up only their second win of the year against fellow strugglers the Western Force with a 41-24 win.