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Sports & Off The Pitch
May 4 2012 2:58PM
 
'Pink' Bulls aim for top spot
2012 SupeRugby match between DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls from DHL Newlands on March 31, 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images
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Michael Mentz

Pink as their jerseys are likely to be, the Bulls won't lose sight of the fact that top honours in the South African Super Rugby conference is up for grabs when they take on the Rebels in Melbourne this morning.

While a win would ensure that they remain tied in first position with the Stormers – who automatically bag four log points during their break – a bonus point victory will see the men from Pretoria go one point clear of their rivals.

Having spent two weeks away from the action the Bulls were pleased to report that they received some much needed reinforcements ahead of their first match on tour with Springboks Flip van der Merwe and Dean "Wors" Greyling set to run out in the strawberry milkshake-coloured kit.

In another boost replacement hooker Willie Wepener is back at his post in the place of Bongi Mbonambi while specialist fetcher Deon Stegmann is believed to be a week away from reclaiming his place in the team.

Heading into this clash Bulls coach Frans Ludeke stressed how important a solid start is to their ambitions and that they would have to avoid falling into the trap of becoming complacent.

"The Rebels are one of those teams who refuse to go away and we will need to play for 80 minutes to beat them," Ludeke said. The leader of the "pink cows", as they are affectionately known as, shared his coach's sentiments.

"This is a new venue for us and the importance of getting the tour under way with a positive performance makes everyone very keen to get out there," said Bulls captain Pierre Spies.

"The Rebels challenges you with good scrambling defence and have playmakers all round, so we need to focus on our strengths for this one."

The Melbourne side this week announced that it had agreed to release former England flyhalf Danny Cipriani from his contract which could cause some disruption to their backline that is already missing the talented James O'Connor. Cipriani will be replaced by Kurtley Beale.

Meanwhile in other contests the Lions take on the Chiefs in what will be a great test of the character for the inexperienced side.

Lions coach John Mithcell made five changes to his squad and a combination of injuries and poor form has forced him to select a Varsity Cup utility forward at flank for this encounter.

Grant Hattingh was drafted in from the University of Stellenbosch and is set to make his run-on debut after an outstanding performance last week when he came on as a substitute.

In Bloemfontein the Cheetahs will be eager to get over last week's heartbreak when they host the Western Force while the Sharks have a tough challenge against the Highlanders in Durban.

michaelm@thenewage.co.za

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