Mike Blair expects most physical test of the season as Edinburgh battle heat, altitude and Bulls

Mike Blair rates Edinburgh’s home win against Bulls last season as the most physical game his side have been involved in and he expects it to be even tougher when the sides meet again on Saturday in the heat and altitude of a Pretoria afternoon.

Henry Immelman scored Edinburgh's try in the 17-10 win over the Bulls last October. (Photo by Bruce White / SNS Group)
Henry Immelman scored Edinburgh's try in the 17-10 win over the Bulls last October. (Photo by Bruce White / SNS Group)

The temperature is expected to reach 28 degrees when the match kicks off at 2.30pm locally (1.30pm BST) as the hosts look to build on an opening weekend win over the Lions in Johannesburg. Edinburgh impressed too, blowing away the Dragons with a sparkling second-half performance, but the round two clash with the Bulls represents a significant step up.

Blair has beefed up his pack, bringing Pierre Schoeman, WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist and Sam Skinner into his starting line-up, the latter for his first start for Edinburgh. The back row of Luke Crosbie, Jamie Ritchie and Viliame Mata remains but Hamish Watson is on the bench and set for his first outing of the season.

“I think this will be one of our toughest games of the season, not only because of the strength of the Bulls side but also the type of game they play, the physicality that they bring, and with the conditions,” said Blair

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“We believe it will be 28 degrees in the afternoon, we’re obviously playing at altitude as well, so it’s going to be a brilliant test for our guys. It’s really going to test our character, I think, and see where we’re at. I can’t wait.”

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Edinburgh showed plenty of guts to beat the Bulls 17-10 last season in a game in which they lost two stand-offs to injury. The South African side recovered to go all the way to the URC final where they lost to the Stormers, Edinburgh’s opponents in Cape Town next week.

“I think when we played the Bulls at the DAM Health last year it was the most physical performance that we’ve had,” added Blair. “We met them front on: Bismarck du Plessis and Marcell Coetzee were playing then, and we really fronted up against them.

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Mark Bennett in action against the Vodacom Bulls at the DAM Health Stadium last season. (Photo by Bruce White / SNS Group)

“We’ve looked back at that a little bit and reminded ourselves of what it takes to take on a team like the Bulls. We were really aware that we can’t let teams like the Bulls get momentum into their games, so that physicality is going to be absolutely crucial.”

Blair dismissed suggestions that this was a good time to be taking on the South African sides because their leading players are away on international duty. The Springboks squad which hosts Argentina in the Rugby Championship in Durban on Saturday includes Bulls wingers Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse but the side Edinburgh will face is stuffed with quality.

The experienced Bok Johan Goosen returns at full-back after injury and the recently capped Elrigh Louw starts at No 8. Coetzee captains the team and among the replacements is Morné Steyn, now 38 but still a steady influence.

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“This is a really strong team,” said Blair. “They’ve got a huge amount of class. I don’t think the team that they put out will be far off the one that played in the final last season. They’ve got brilliant strength in depth, an incredible conveyor belt of players coming through in what is their number one sport.”

Vodacom Bulls v Edinburgh Rugby (URC, Loftus Versfeld, Saturday, 1.30pm BST. Live on Premier Sports 2)

Vodacom Bulls: Johan Goosen; Cornal Hendricks, Lionel Mapoe, David Kriel, Stravino Jacobs; Chris Smith, Zak Burger; Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Mornay Smith, Walt Steenkamp, Ruan Nortje, Marcell Coetzee (c), Ruan Vermaak, Elrigh Louw.

Replacements: Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Simphiwe Matanzima, Francois Klopper, Janko Swanepoel, Marco van Staden; Embrose Papier, Morne Steyn, Stedman Gans

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Edinburgh Rugby: Henry Immelman; Darcy Graham, Mark Bennett, James Lang, Damien Hoyland; Blair Kinghorn, Henry Pyrgos; Pierre Schoeman, Dave Cherry, WP Nel, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist (cc), Jamie Ritchie (cc), Luke Crosbie, Viliame Mata.

Replacements: Stuart McInally, Boan Venter, Luan de Bruin, Marshall Sykes, Hamish Watson, Ben Vellacott, Jaco van der Walt, Chris Dean.

Referee: Adam Jones (WRU).

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