Tough, close encounter expected

2011-05-21 00:00

THE stakes could hardly be higher for the desperate Sharks and the Bulls when they clash in their Super Rugby derby at King’s Park tonight.

The Stormers’ remarkable 28-26 triumph over the Blues in Auckland yesterday has raised the bar and added to the pressure on both the Sharks and the Bulls. The Sharks have to win tonight to stay in touch with the South African conference leaders while the Bulls are also staring failure in the face and a King’s Park defeat will almost certainly bring a premature end to the champions’ Super Rugby title defence.

The Sharks are now five log points behind the Stormers, who produced a stirring performance of character and courage in overcoming injury, a yellow card and a 19-3 half-time deficit for yesterday’s win. The Sharks, who have a demanding final month with four of their remaining five games against improving teams away from the comforts of King’s Park, certainly cannot afford to drop points in their own backyard.

The Sharks’ timing has been lousy. Not only will they bump a Bulls outfit starting to flex their muscles after a limp start to the season, but the Cheetahs and Lions, opponents in the weeks ahead, are also starting to flourish.

The Bulls made a subdued start to the season as their big guns failed to fire, but they made a happy return to Loftus and showed some of their old touches in downing first the Chiefs and then the Rebels.

In spite of several early season losses, they have stuck rigidly to their familiar tactical plan, one based on robust forward play and their halfbacks’ territorial game. Coach Frans Ludeke has argued long and hard that there is little wrong with his tactical approach and blamed the Bulls’ problems on poor execution.

The Bulls’ bristling approach, as Sharks coach John Plumtree has pointed out, is tailored to their strengths, a superb Victor Matfield-designed lineout, a tactically astute scrumhalf in Fourie du Preez and the prodigious boot of flyhalf Morné Steyn.

“We have to find ways of forcing them into doing different things,” said Plumtree, and he will be looking to his forwards to take the Bulls out of their comfort zone.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have attempted to build on the modern, high intensity approach which brought them the Currie Cup title last year, but an inconsistent lineout and an inability to build and maintain momentum has hampered their progress.

They have lacked the fizz of last year as they have struggled to win quick ball from the breakdown and their opponents have found ways of closing down or slowing their game.

The result is that scrumhalf Charl McLeod, who has also picked up the nasty Rory Kockott habit of running a couple of steps before passing, and flyhalf Pat Lambie have been unable to provide the slick service, the spark, which was a feature of the Sharks’ successful Currie Cup campaign.

There have been patches of good rugby in recent weeks — signs that their quick, flowing game is returning — but the Sharks have yet to play to their full potential. They have become a one-half team and it will require an 80-minute effort to down the Bulls tonight.

The Bulls have to be matched physically if their brawn and kicking game is to be negated. The Sharks’ bruisers, Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Bismarck du Plessis, will worry the Bulls, but the energy and high workrate of suspended flank Keegan Daniel, both on attack and defence, will be missed.

The Sharks’ all-Bok front-row of the Du Plessis brothers and the Beast should give them the edge in the scrums, but the Bulls have the lineout edge and the battle on the gainline will be decisive.

With a dozen Test players in each team, there will be numerous sideshows and head-to-head contests, most notably between flyhalves Pat Lambie and Morné Steyn, Charl McLeod and Fourie du Preez at the base, number eights Willem Alberts and Pierre Spies, and lineout jumpers Alistair Hargreaves and Victor Matfield.

It promises to be tough, hard and close, but the Sharks now have to lift themselves, as the Stormers did in the second half in Auckland yesterday, and prove to both friend and foe that they are also genuine Super Rugby contenders.

TEAMS

Sharks – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche (c), 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Marcel Coetzee, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Adi Jacobs, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.

Bulls – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.

Replacements: 16 Gary Botha, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Derick Kuün, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ). Kick-off: 7.10 pm (SS1).

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