Preview: Sharks vs Bulls
It’s do or die for the Sharks at Mr Price Kings Park on Friday evening when they host the Bulls in what promises to be an enthralling Super Rugby encounter.
Lose and The Sharks will not make the playoffs. It’s as simple as that really.
The permutations are a little bit better for the Bulls, who can still top the South African Conference if they win in Durban, but would need the Stormers to slip up somewhere in their final two matches.
John Plumtree, coach of the Sharks, knows the pressure is on his team to deliver the goods on Friday, even though they will be without injured Springboks Willem Alberts and Pat Lambie, while two other stalwarts of the pack, Steven Sykes and Jacques Botes, are also out with injuries.
“Clearly, when the gun is pointed straight between our eyes, we react better, which is a bit unfortunate,” said Plumtree.
“But this is a home game for us and we're looking forward to a big crowd to help us out. We have a few worries, but there is plenty of character in this group and we have to dig deep on the weekend and get on top of this Bulls team that is riding pretty high at the moment.
“When we played them early in season, we didn't look after all of their threats; we didn't get on top of them and hence they got the win. They put us under pressure and our discipline wasn't good enough and we weren't good enough on the day; we need to turn that around.”
Frans Ludeke, whose Bulls team come off a comprehensive 40-24 victory over the Cheetahs, relishes the challenge of travelling to the Shark Tank for such a big game.
“I would like to believe that our team thrive on challenges and the bigger they are, the better we respond,” said Ludeke.
“This is why the guys put in the hours and hours of hard work after all. They want to be out there when the challenge is at its biggest and toughest. We prepared well and everyone is very keen to do well. We still have our destiny in our own hands and want to keep it like that.”
Bulls captain Pierre Spies knows it will be very tough in Durban against a Sharks side that has a lot riding on the result of this match.
“There are numerous game breakers in their side and they do play in front of passionate supporters,” said Spies.
“We have been able to achieve important results there in the past though and the feeling in the camp is that we can do it again. We cannot repeat what happened in the last 20 minutes against the Cheetahs.
"To beat the Sharks in Durban you not only need 80 minutes of effort, but a special 80 minutes to that.”
Key Battle: Tight five vs. tight five. South African derbies are traditionally won and lost up front and Friday’s fixture will be no different.
The front rows are pretty evenly balanced with the Sharks shading it with their all-Springbok trio, but the Bulls, in Boks Flip van der Merwe and Juandre Kruger, will have a distinct advantage in the second row.
Injury has forced Plumtree’s hand, the Sharks coach naming Anton Bresler and Baby Bok standout Pieter-Steph du Toit as his locks. The greenhorns are promising prospects for the future, but as this stage of their careers they will find the going tough against a tried-and-tested Bulls combination.
Last Meeting: Bulls 18-13 Sharks (Pretoria).
Prediction: Experience will be a telling factor in this contest, even more so than home ground advantage, and the Bulls have it in abundance.
The visitors have settled combinations from one to 15, whereas the Sharks have a new lock and centre pairing, a reshuffled loose trio and back three and Frederic Michalak partnering Charl McLeod in the absence of Pat Lambie.
The Bulls also boast the superior bench and will therefore have too much firepower for the hosts. Bulls by five points.
Friday 6 July: Sharks vs. Bulls, Durban (19:10)
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski 7, Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Francois Venter.