Preview: Sharks v Blue Bulls
Last year's runners-up, the Sharks, host the Blue Bulls in what promises to be an explosive Currie Cup semi-final in Durban on Saturday.
Both teams head into this clash on the back of good form after registering impressive results last weekend. The Sharks thrashed Griquas 42-3 to finish in pole position on the tournament table and the Bulls claimed a morale-boosting 50-29 victory over the Golden Lions which galvanised their season.
That win for the Pretoria outfit has made a big difference to their season as a defeat could have meant that they had to play in the promotion/relegation match with the EP Kings on Friday.
Sharks coach John Plumtree knows that the Bulls' triumph over the Lions make them a dangerous side and he expects a tough assignment this weekend.
"The Bulls did well to beat the Lions, it's never easy to win at Coca Cola Park," he said.
"They did a really good job there. They had a relegation gun pointing at their heads, which is different to our situation.
"Hopefully what we decide in terms of selection and how we integrate the players back into the side will benefit the team and then ultimately we can win the trophy - that's what we all want."
After a long and strenuous season Plumtree knows that his side will have to be at the their best over the next two weeks in their chase for honours.
"There is so much to look forward to, so much work has been done and lots of rugby has been played," he said.
"We know what we're coming up against, a very hungry Bulls side looking to prove a point. It's been a tough year, there are four teams who can finish their season on a high and all four will be talking about that."
Blue Bulls captain Dewald Potgieter believes his team have turned the corner after experiencing several lows this season and he is confident they can upset the hosts in the 'Shark Tank'
Potgieter said the fact that several of the Bulls players have won the Currie Cup before will prove valuable this weekend.
"We know what a special effort will be needed to go all the way," he said.
"We have been with our back against the walls for long spells this season, but responded every time, which is typical of the characters you find in this squad.
"They won't quit and that will be the mind-set again this weekend against a team that is well respected, but not unbeatable."
Players to watch:
For Sharks: Flanker Marcell Coetzee was one of the Sharks' most impressive players over the entire Super Rugby season, earning him a Bok jersey. He works tirelessly on defence and attack, enjoys the physical nature of the game and thrives in the foraging role. Against a side like the Bulls that latter part of his game could be a defining factor in this encounter.
For Blue Bulls: Springbok speedster Bjorn Basson is one of the leading finishers in rugby and seldom wastes a try-scoring opportunity. Another string to his bow is his aerial ability as he seldom loses the battle when competing for up-and-unders which is one of the main features of the Bulls' game-plan. After spending a large part of the season on the sidelines due to injury, Basson will be keen to impress. Don't bet against him doing just that.
Head-to-head: The battle between Sharks pivot Pat Lambie and Blue Bulls counterpart Morne Steyn could play a significant role in determining who should start in the position for the Springboks during their upcoming November internationals in Europe. Steyn was the man in possession at the start of the international season but was dropped by Bok coach Heyneke Meyer during the latter stages of the Rugby Championship. Lambie, although part of Meyer's squad throughout the year saw little game-time with his appearances restricted to cameo roles. Both will be keen to prove that they should start for the Boks and their battle should make for riveting viewing.
Previous results (2012):
September 28: Sharks won 13-12 in Durban
August 25: Blue Bulls won 42-31 in Pretoria
Prediction: It's one of the oldest clichés in the game but with several Springboks in both starting packs, as well as on the bench, the team that wins the forward battle will be triumphant. The home side, however, can call on seasoned internationals like Beast Mtawarira and Willem Alberts which will be crucial as the game progresses. Sharks to win by six points!
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandre Marais, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Steven Sykes/Peet Marais, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Meyer Bosman.
Blue Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter (c), 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Juandrè Kruger, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Mornè Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouchè, 22 Dean Greyling.
Referee: Mark Lawrence