It Will Be War At Loftus When Vodacom Bulls Host Exeter Chiefs


Vodacom Bulls will be hoping for a different outcome when they take on Exeter Chiefs for a second time in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup, this time in Pretoria on Saturday at 19:15 (SA Time).

The debuting South African side was handed a resounding 44-14 defeat when they visited Sandy Park in Round 2, but they are set to offer the 2020 champions a more robust challenge in the home comforts of Loftus Versfeld.

Exeter’s victory brought Vodacom Bulls down to earth, after they saw off Lyon 42-36 in their first-ever Heineken Champions Cup game, and gave the Gallagher Premiership outfit maximum points for the second time in Pool A after they triumphed 27-12 at Castres Olympique in Round 1.

Exeter trail pool leaders Leinster Rugby only on points difference, while Vodacom Bulls are seventh, just inside the qualification places.

Ahead of their Round 3 encounter, Vodacom Bulls have won once in three United Rugby Championship games, while Exeter has managed two from three in the Premiership.

Prediction: Vodacom Bulls by 5.

The Vodacom Bulls have named a formidable team with captain, Ruan Nortje will leading a strong forwards pack as Gerard Steenekamp, Johann Grobbelaar and Mornay Smith line up in the front row with Ruan Vermaak alongside his captain in the second row. Nizaam Carr starts at openside flank with Marco van Staden at blindside, both anchored by Elrigh Louw at 8.

Zak Burger and Chris Smith is the half-backs whilst David Kriel (left) and Canan Moodie (right) start at wing with Harold Vorster (inside) and Wandisile Simelane (outside) linking up as the centre pairing with Kurt-Lee Arendse at full-back.

Nortje’s herd boasts an experienced and influential impact squad with the likes of Bismarck Du Plessis, Dylan Smith, Johan Goosen and Lionel Mapoe; all lining up alongside bright young stars in Francois Klopper, Janko Swanepoel, WJ Steenkamp and Embrose Papier.

Forward coach, Russell Winter, insists that the match remains the focus and not the permutations as the team prepares for a tough clash, willing to fight fire with fire.

“We have got to front up on Saturday, sticking to our systems, which will help us do well. We have to try hard and stay within what we have been coached and try break them down in the way that they want to play, that is how we are going to get the result,”

“We are playing one of the top clubs in a top premium franchise competition, so the intensity will be higher and we are going to have to match it and improve our intensity if we want to make that we get the win. We have to be up for it physically, mentally and on our game, they might find some cracks; but if we do what we train, then we will be okay,”

“We know they (Exeter) are a very good side, we know that they are well coached and we know that in the game that we played against them (in Exeter on December 17) they really put in a big scrum and mauling performance. We know their pack of forwards is a really good set of forwards, they really play and play expansive rugby as well if they want to,”

“We have to prepare for all these things and come Saturday, we are going to put our best foot forward and hopefully we have prepared well enough to win the game” Winter concluded.

Rob Baxter acknowledges his Exeter Chiefs will face a much different African beast when they tackle the Vodacom Bulls in Round Three of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup.

This latest match-up, however, promises to be their toughest assignment yet. Not only is it up against South Africa’s most successful club side on their own turf, but summer heat and playing at altitude will just add to the things the Chiefs will need to process on the night.

Baxter, though, has been encouraged by what he has seen from his players this week. Despite the scorching overhead heat, the squad have not been afraid to test their limits, pushing themselves hard enough to ensure they are in prime condition come kick-off.

“Playing at 7:30pm over here, the temperature will be a lot cooler than what we’ve experienced at other times of the day,” explained Baxter. “Equally, we’ve been here a week now and again we’ve acclimatised to the conditions pretty well. For us, the focus is on coming over here and building on what has been a very strong start to our Heineken Champions Cup campaign.

“We’ve had two fantastic results against Castres away and then the Bulls at home, but now we have to build on that this weekend. It will be tough, there is no doubt about that, and we’re expecting a much different Bulls side that came to us last month. That was a pretty mixed squad they sent, but this will be pretty much full-on.

“For our lads, it’s a fantastic opportunity to create something special again. We’ve talked all week about what we will need to do, how strong we will need to be, plus the fight we will need to show. Getting a result would be fantastic, but equally anything positive we can take from the game will be very important. We’ve seen in the past that if you pick up bonus points, they can really mean something later in the competition.

“That means having that focus across the whole 80 minutes has to be there. If we do, it will give us the best footing into the game, and then we can start later and really impose ourselves on the Bulls.”

With returning forward Jannes Kirsten providing a detailed brief on the Bulls and Pretoria this week, Baxter says the long trek to the Southern Hemisphere has allowed his players to not only enjoy some quality time together, on and off the pitch, but create a bond that will be needed further down the line.

“It’s been a good trip,” added Baxter. “The senior guys have created like some mini tour rules which have helped to really pull the group together. As I said, we’ve had to train at different times of the day because of the heat, but the guys have been fine with that and we’re seeing some real quality in our training.

“The proof of the pudding, however, will come on Saturday night, but we’re in a good place and looking forward to the challenge of it all.”

Team news for the Chiefs sees Jack Innard come into the front-row in place of hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie. The England forward was forced off during last weekend’s Gallagher Premiership win over Northampton Saints with an ankle injury. He is due to undergo surgery on that injury shortly and will be sidelined for an unspecified period of time.

The remainder of the pack remains unchanged, as does the back division which includes Henry Slade, who will take on the captaincy duties in the absence of Cowan-Dickie. On the bench, Kirsten returns for the first time in months to face his former club in the only change.


Vodacom Bulls: 15. Kurt-Lee Arendse, 14. Canan Moodie, 13. Wandisile Simelane, 12. Harold Vorster, 11. David Kriel, 10. Chris Smith, 9. Zak Burger, 8. Elrigh Louw, 7. Nizaam Carr, 6. Marco van Staden, 5. Ruan Nortje (c), 4. Ruan Vermaak, 3. Mornay Smith, 2. Johann Grobbelaar, 1. Gerard Steenekamp. Replacements: 16. Bismarck Du Plessis, 17. Dylan Smith, 18. Francois Klopper, 19. Janko Swanepoel, 20. WJ Steenkamp, 21. Embrose Papier, 22. Johan Goosen, 23 Lionel Mapoe.

Exeter Chiefs: 15. Josh Hodge, 14. Jack Nowell, 13. Henry Slade (c), 12. Solomone Kata, 11. Olly Woodburn, 10. Joe Simmonds, 9. Sam Maunder, 8. Sam Simmonds, 7. Christ Tshiunza, 6. Dave Ewers, 5. Dafydd Jenkins, 4. Jack Dunne, 3. Harry Williams, 2. Jack Innard, 1. Scott Sio. Replacements: 16. Jack Yeandle, 17. James Kenny, 18. Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19. Jannes Kirsten, 20. Greg Fisilau, 21. Jack Maunder, 22. Harvey Skinner, 23. Rory O’Loughlin.