First away test for Sharks

2014-03-22 00:00

THE Sharks have already seen off many challenges this season, but tonight they face one they have not encountered so far this season — playing away from home.

The Super Rugby table-topping Sharks have the upper hand over the three-time champion Bulls having beaten them at King’s Park in the opening week of the competition.

The Sharks have managed to maintain that momentum from the opening week, and have claimed four wins from their first four games, while the Bulls had a stuttering start.

But Sharks coach Jake White, although he expected the Bulls to be predictable, knew that the men from Pretoria would be formidable opponents at Loftus Versfeld.

Starting on the road for their first two games, Frans Ludeke’s men got their season back on track with two consecutive wins at their fortress, and they will be eager for the chance to break the Sharks’ unbeaten record so far for the year.

The predictability of the Bulls, who White said at a press conference on Thursday haven’t played differently in 30 years, could play into the hands of the Sharks, who will be looking to mix things up in the hope to get out of the blocks quicker.

“Maul, kick, maul, kick,” was what White was expecting from the Bulls.

“We’ve been speaking about this first away game. It’s at altitude, it’s on a hard ground, it’s a derby game and it’s an opportunity for us to try some new things. It’s week five for us, and we’re probably going to have to evolve our game as we go along in the competition,” White said on Thursday.

“We’ve got a couple of things that we’re going to bring in this week and hopefully it will be difficult for the Bulls to read it quickly.”

Unlike the Sharks who have made very few changes to their starting XV so far, the Bulls’ season has been disrupted by injury. They have already lost captain Pierre Spies to injury, while Jono Ross was relegated to the bench and replaced by former skipper Dewald Potgieter.

They were dealt another blow on Thursday when they lost Springbok Flip van der Merwe, their stand-in skipper, to injury.

Van der Merwe’s loss opens up a gap for 21-year-old Paul Willemse, who should learn a lot from playing alongside one of the greats in the game in Victor Matfield.

Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis also felt coming up against Matfield would do Stephan Lewies, their own youngster in the second row, a lot of good.

“I remember when I was playing my fifth or sixth game, I was playing a guy who’s played over 100 games and that motivates you a lot more,” said Du Plessis.

With White naming an unchanged side, wing JP Pietersen will start his 100th game for the Sharks, and should be busy for 80 minutes watching his opposite number, the explosive Bjorn Basson.

The Sharks have been guilty of letting teams off a number of times this season, and with game winners among both the forwards and at the back, Du Plessis was looking for an improvement in their execution.

“I think we as a team are starting to gel well together. I’d just like to execute a little bit more when we get chances and really put them under pressure and play in the right areas this weekend,” said Du Plessis.

The skipper felt if they were dominant in their set phases, they would have a chance to walk away from Loftus with their 100% record for the season intact.

“If you want to play Super Rugby, you’ve got to be dominant in the set phases, and that’s where we want to dominate.”

Should the Sharks win, it should boost their confidence for their clash against fellow title favourites, the Waratahs, at King’s Park the following week. If the Bulls win, it will open the South African conference and stop White’s men who are currently threatening to run away with it.

Tonight’s game will kick off at 7.10 pm, and will be officiated by Mike Fraser from New Zealand. His assistants will be Craig Joubert and Jaco van Heerden, Deon van Blommenstein will be the TMO.


Bulls: 15. Jurgen Visser, 14. Sampie Mastriet, 13. J J Engelbrecht, 12. Jan Serfontein, 11. Bjorn Basson, 10. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Dewald Potgieter, 7. Jacques du Plessis, 6. Deon Stegmann, 5. Victor Matfield, 4. Paul Willemse, 3. Werner Kruger, 2. Callie Visagie, 1. Dean Greyling

Substitutes: 16. Bongi Mbonambi, 17. Marcel vd Merwe, 18. Grant Hattingh, 19. Jono Ross, 20. Piet van Zyl, 21. Handré Pollard, 22. Ulrich Beyers, 23. Morné Mellet

Sharks: 15. SP Marais, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. S’bura Sithole, 12. Frans Steyn, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Stephan Lewies, 4. Anton Bresler, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1. Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Etienne Oosthuizen, 20. Tera Mtembu, 21. Charl McLeod, 22. Tim Swiel, 23. Andre Esterhuizen


8.35 am: Blues vs Cheetahs. 10.40 am: Brumbies vs Stormers. 1 pm: Western Force vs Chiefs. 5.05 pm: Lions vs Reds. 7.10 pm: Bulls vs Sharks


Highlanders 35, Hurricanes 31. Waratahs 32, Rebels 8.

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