Preview: Bulls v Brumbies

The Bulls will be looking to bounce back after last weekend's loss to the Jaguares when they host a struggling Brumbies outfit on Saturday.

The disappointing result in Buenos Aires leaves the Bulls four points adrift of the Sharks, who occupy the final spot in the play-off race.

For that reason this game will be crucial to John Mitchell's men as another loss would leave them on the brink heading into the Test break.

The Brumbies meanwhile are well off the pace as defeat at the Lions was their eighth this season, leaving them 12 points off the play-offs. They enter this match hoping to end a five-game losing run in Super Rugby, with this campaign having been hugely disappointing in general.

What may give the out of form Brumbies hope at Loftus Versfeld is they have won four of their last five games against the Bulls, including each of their last two; the last time they won more was a five-game streak from 1999 to 2003. Both of those games however were in Canberra.

In the Bulls' favour is they have won four of their last six games on home turf, as well as picking up one losing bonus point in that time.

The hosts enter the game as favourites for victory as they look to add that solid record on home soil. If they could overcome the Brumbies they would ultimately gain ground on either the Jaguares or Sharks, who clash on Friday in Buenos Aires, as the Conference races heats up.

"We know that our effort last weekend was not good enough. It was a setback in our efforts and ambitions for the season. We do get another opportunity a week later and we are playing at home, so we have a great chance to redeem ourselves in front of our support," said Mitchell.

Meanwhile, returning Bulls captain Burger Odendaal is expecting the Brumbies' all-round game to prove a handful to his side this Saturday.

"They are certainly well-balanced and we need to be sharp in execution and finishing off if we want to secure a win. The guys are keen to embrace this opportunity though, especially at home in front of our supporters," he said as they look to get their campaign back on track.

The last time the teams met: The Brumbies were 23-6 winners in Canberra in 2016 thanks to crossings from Nigel Ah Wong and Tomás Cubelli, with Christian Lealiifano knocking over 13 points off the tee. In reply the Bulls' only points came via Francois Brummer's two penalties.

Players to watch:

For Bulls: The return of Burger Odendaal means Handre Pollard is back in the fly-half jersey this weekend, after a disappointing team performance in Argentina. With his captain alongside, Pollard and Odendaal will look to dominate proceedings at Loftus and expect a strong outing from the number 10 as he looks to push his case for a starting Springbok shirt one last time before June.

For Brumbies: With Rob Valetini ruled out, more responsibility will be on the shoulders of Isi Naisarani to get them over the advantage line. Such a dynamic carrier and with David Pocock's unique skills at the breakdown and Lachlan McCaffrey's general workrate complimenting the back-row nicely, Naisarani is allowed to express himself in attack. If he enjoys a busy game, the Bulls are in trouble.

Team news: Regular inside centre and captain, Burger Odendaal, returns to lead the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

Odendaal missed last weekend’s clash against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, but is ready to lead the side again.

His return will see Handre Pollard starting at 10 again, with Manie Libbok back onto the bench in place of JT Jackson.

In the other changes to the team from last weekend, Nic de Jager comes into the starting team at flank, where he takes over from Thembelani Bholi, with the latter moving to the bench and Jaco Visagie will switch with Adriaan Strauss at hooker.

Strauss will again extend his South African appearance record in Super Rugby when he takes to the field for the 156th time.

Bulls coach John Mitchell also introduced two new faces to the bench. Ruben van Heerden will be backing up at lock and there is a potential Bulls and Super Rugby debut for Matthys Basson, who comes in for Frans van Wyk at prop.

Meanwhile, Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar has made two changes to his starting line-up as Blake Enever and Lachlan McCaffrey are recalled in the absence of the suspended Rory Arnold and injured Rob Valetini.

Enever will partner co-captain Sam Carter in the lock position for the first time this season, while McCaffrey slots back into the blindside role having been named as a replacement in the defeat to the Lions last weekend. The physical ball-carrier will be joined in the back-row by David Pocock and Isi Naisarani.

The rest of the starting team is the same that played in Johannesburg with the front row of Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a and Allan Alaalatoa packing down together for the eighth match in succession, bringing a forceful and formidable look to the engine room of the scrum.

Behind the pack, Joe Powell and Christian Lealiifano will be the half-back pairing for the fifth time this season, although prior to the Lions match the duo hadn’t formed the axis since the Round 4 clash with the Rebels in Melbourne.

Kyle Godwin remains at centre alongside Brumbies newest centurion Tevita Kuridrani, the Wallaby international celebrating his 100th cap with a try in Johannesburg. Out wide Andy Muirhead, Henry Speight and two-try Tom Banks will be looking to cause more carnage having been afforded the licence to run last time out.

Form: A dismal opening five games to the season saw the Bulls win just once, losing the other four. They then went on a run that saw them win three in a row before losses to the Highlanders and Stormers were followed up by victory over the Sharks before losing at the Jaguares.

The Brumbies meanwhile are in terrible shape having lost their last five matches. Their only wins this campaign came against the Sunwolves, Sharks and Reds as they are a whopping 15 points behind Australian Conference leaders the Waratahs. They have not won a game since April 7.

Prediction: This could be a high-scoring affair on the Highveld but one which the hosts should edge. Bulls by eight.

Previous results:

2016: Brumbies won 23-6 in Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 22-16 in Canberra
2014: Bulls won 44-23 in Pretoria
2013: Brumbies won 26-23 in Pretoria (semi-final)
2013: Brumbies won 23-20 in Canberra
2012: Brumbies won 36-34 in Pretoria
2010: Bulls won 50-32 in Pretoria
2009: Brumbies won 32-31 in Canberra

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Nic de Jager, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Mox Mxoli, 18 Matthys Basson, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw

Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andrew Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Lachlan McCaffrey, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Nick Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Tom Cusack, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Andrew Smith

Date: Saturday, May 26
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Jaco Pretorius (South Africa)
Television match official: Willie Vos (South Africa)