Sharks have a heck of a job

2013-05-25 00:00

THE Sharks, if they are to keep their flickering Super Rugby hopes alive, will have to turn the form book on its head by beating the Bulls at King’s Park tonight.

The Bulls, confident, confrontational and the South African conference leaders, arrive at King’s Park fresh from five successive Super Rugby victories, while the Sharks will play to a sceptical home audience after winning just one of their last six games.

While the Bulls are playing with that old familiar swagger, the Sharks have stuttered unconvincingly through their campaign.

A plague of injuries has broken their rhythm and confidence throughout the competition and the patchy form of the few remaining senior players has not helped.

The Sharks have been lifted by their timely, if stuttering, win over the Force last Friday, but they will have to improve dramatically on that display to deny the Bulls tonight.

John Plumtree’s team are certainly not without hope. Seeing the Bulls in the opposite corner usually adds fire to their bellies and some of their most famous, and unexpected, triumphs have been against the Pretoria-based franchise.

Bulls captain Pierre Spies recognises the threat and the importance of the game for both sides.

“It’s always tough against the Sharks … and it’s always difficult to play them in Durban,” he said.

The Sharks have to win to have a sniff of reaching the playoffs, while the Bulls, with victory tonight and another next weekend against the Cheetahs, will be out of sight in the race for the South African conference.

Some of the Sharks’ bruisers at forward are returning from injury. Flank Willem Alberts had his first start last Friday and loosehead Beast Mtawarira, though short of match practice, is back tonight.

But the ongoing disruptions at three-quarter have blunted the Sharks’ attack and the loss this week of the imposing JP Pietersen is a significant setback.

Piet Lindeque, on loan from the Bulls where he could not make their Super Rugby squad, replaces Pietersen at outside centre and his defensive capabilities will be tested tonight.

There will be a number of key contests across the pitch. The most physical will be on the gainline between two well-matched, fiercely committed backrows and the most intriguing is at flyhalf.

Pat Lambie, the current Test flyhalf, has lost some ground since last year, but he has been playing in an unsettled Sharks backline, while a predecessor in the Bok team, Morné Steyn, has had an easier ride behind a dominant Bulls pack.

This evening does provide Lambie with the perfect opportunity to show that he still has more to offer the Springboks than a prodigious boot. (Of course, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer could include both players by returning Lambie to his old position at fullback).

The Bulls will launch their usual aerial assault with wing Bjorn Basson a constant threat chasing the high ball. The Sharks, if they are to stay in this contest, have to carry the fight to the Bulls pack, somehow matching Springbok locks Juandré Kruger and Flip van der Merwe, and limiting Steyn’s opportunities to dominate the flow of the game with the boot.

It will be one heck of a job and, to be blunt, there has been little evidence to suggest the Sharks are ready to suddenly topple the Bulls. Except, perhaps, that a compelling Sharks’ performance is overdue and the players know precisely what is needed to take the Bulls by the tail … and give it a good yank.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15. Riaan Viljoen,14. Odwa Ndungane,13. Piet Lindeque,12. Meyer Bosman,11. Lwazi Mvovo,10. Pat Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel (capt), 7. Willem Alberts, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Kyle Cooper, 1. Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16. Monde Hadebe, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Jandre Marais, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Lubabalo Mtembu, 21. Tian Meyer, 22. Sean Robinson

Bulls: 15. Jürgen Visser, 14. Akona Ndungane, 13. JJ Engelbrecht, 12. Wynand Olivier, 11. Bjorn Basson, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Pierre Spies (captain), 7. Dewald Potgieter, 6. Deon Stegmann, 5. Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.

Replacements: 16. Willie Wepener, 17. Werner Kruger, 18. Grant Hattingh, 19. Arno Botha, 20. Jano Vermaak, 21. Louis Fouché /Jan Serfontein, 22. Lionel Mapoe

Kick-off: 7.10 pm. Referee: Jonathan Kaplan.

Today’s fixtures (home team first, SA times): Blues v Brumbies 9.35 am, Force v Highlanders 11.40 am, Kings v Cheetahs 3.00 pm, Stormers v Reds 5.05 pm, Sharks v Bulls 7.10 pm.

Bye: Hurricanes

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