In for a bruiser

2013-07-06 00:00

THE Bulls are jam-packed with Springboks, lie second on the Super Rugby log and are unbeaten on their home patch at Loftus this year, yet the Sharks are surprisingly upbeat ahead of their derby clash in Pretoria tonight.

The Bulls, after eight wins on the bounce, have fresh incentive after the Crusaders did them an enormous favour by thumping the log-leading Chiefs 43-15 yesterday. The Bulls will go clear of the field in the race to host the Super Rugby finals if they down the Sharks tonight.

The Bulls will be concerned about a Sharks’ all-Springbok front row and the physicality of Bismarck du Plessis, Marcell Coetzee and Willem Alberts.

But they have genuine strengths of their own and a territory-based game tailored to their traditional style, and the highveld conditions, with a quality lineout and a driving pack backed by a prolific match-winner in flyhalf Morné Steyn.

It was just two rounds ago (before the June break) that the fortunate Bulls nipped out the backdoor at King’s Park with an 18-16 win. It was a critical loss for the Sharks, as the single-minded Bulls relied on their superior lineout and the composed goal kicking of Steyn (six penalties) for their win.

John Plumtree (remember him?) was the Sharks coach on the night and he later highlighted the Bulls’ limited but effective approach.

“The only time they stressed us was at the lineout, and with their high kicks. But the Bulls squeeze you to death. We were stronger in the scrums, they were superior in the lineouts, so they were happy to play a kicking game.”

Nothing much will change tonight and the Sharks, lacking quality among the backs, will welcome not being tested too often out wide. The Bulls certainly have the runners, with six current Springbok backs to punish the makeshift Sharks backline if they play with some ambition.

Sharks co-coach Hugh Reece-Edwards says the battle for primary possession will be critical. “The platform is absolutely vital. We have to ruffle a few feathers in the Bulls’ camp and prevent them dominating. If we sit back, then we’re in for a long night.”

The Sharks have an impressive record at Loftus — both teams have won four times with the ninth game drawn — and captain Dewald Potgieter, one of 14 Springboks in the Bulls line-up, is expecting another close, tough contest.

“Traditionally, we play well against each other. The Sharks have a very strong pack. We know what to expect from them and they know what to expect from us.”

The Sharks will certainly have to improve on their form last week. Their pack fashioned the win over the Blues but their kicking, both tactically and at goal, was poor, and their sluggish, injury-ravaged backline, patched up in midfield by a veteran flyhalf (Butch James) and a retreaded fullback (Louis Ludik), lacked any attacking edge.

While the fat lady has been singing for most Sharks supporters for some weeks now, coach Grant Bashford still believes it is not yet over. He is looking for bonus-point wins tonight and next week against the Kings to revive their challenge.

(Of course, this will all be academic if the Cheetahs beat the Blues in Bloemfontein this afternoon to nail down the sixth place on the log).

Whether the Sharks, the coaches and players, are simply whistling in the dark remains to be seen, but either way, we are in for a bruising contest at Loftus tonight.


Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip vd Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling

Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Jurgen Visser, 22 Morné Mellet.

Sharks: 15. Riaan Viljoen, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Louis Ludik, 12. Butch James, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel (capt), 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Edwin Hewitt, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Jandre Marais, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Jacques Botes, 21. Cobus Reinach, 22. Jaco van Tonder.

Referee: Jason Jaftha (SA). Kick-off: 7.15 pm.

Today’s fixtures (home team first, SA times): Hurricanes vs Highlanders

9.35 am. Cheetahs vs Blues 2.50 pm. Kings vs Stormers 5.05 pm. Bulls vs Sharks 7.15 pm.

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