Bulls bring on the big guns

2011-05-17 00:00

THE rejuvenated Bulls will be at full strength and in cup final mode when they travel to Durban on Saturday for their Super Rugby derby against the Sharks.

The Bulls have found some of their old rhythm over the past fortnight in dumping first the Chiefs (43-27) and then the Rebels (47-10) at Loftus to remain in contention for a play-off spot.

The title-holders face the Sharks twice, away and then at home over the next month, and defeat in either will surely end their challenge. They are on 36 points with the Sharks (43 points) chasing the Stormers (44 points) for top spot in the South African conference.

While the Sharks have backrower Ryan Kankowski and possibly hooker John Smit sidelined by injury, and flank Keegan Daniel suspended this weekend, the Bulls are confident they will have their strongest team.

Captain and lock Victor Matfield and wing/scrumhalf Francois Hougaardt, who were on the bench on Saturday, are certain to start, while Bulls team doctor Org Strauss said yesterday that centre Jaco Pretorius (neck strain) “should be declared fit on Wednesday”.

Sharks team doctor Ewoudt van der Linde told The Witness yesterday that Smit (calf strain) would face a late fitness test on Thursday, but coach John Plumtree has options in the front row, and it is expected that the Bok captain will start off the bench if he is cleared to play.

Van der Linde said flank Jacques Botes, who has been out of action with an ankle injury, “is looking good” and he will obviously return for the suspended Daniel. Kankowski (broken cheekbone) will be out for another four weeks, he added.

Bulls caretaker captain Fourie du Preez, while delighted with the team’s 47-10 weekend win over the limp Rebels, says the big challenge is in Durban this weekend.

Du Preez rated his team’s first half against the Rebels — the Bulls led 40-3 — as a nine-out-of-10 performance, but was critical of their second-half effort, rating it just three.

“I think it all started in the last 10 minutes before half-time against the Chiefs, and we took it forward against the Rebels,” Du Preez told News24.

“I think in the second half we lost a bit of our structure, but credit to the guys who put 40 points on in the first half. But this Saturday is very important to us — it’s like a final.

“We still have to play the Sharks twice and the reality is that if we want to catch them, we have to beat them there. It will be very tough in Durban, but we take a lot of confidence out of our performance against the Rebels.”

The Sharks are also under pressure to keep winning and they face a demanding final five weeks with four of their five games against improving South African opposition, three of them away from home.

After taking on the Bulls this weekend, their final home game is against the tough Waratahs outfit, the second-placed Australian franchise, at King’s Park on May 28.

They then travel to play the Cheetahs (June 4), Lions (June 11) and, finally, the Bulls (June 18) before the play-offs start on June 25.

Saturday’s game against the Bulls kicks off at 7.10 pm.

Meanwhile, News24 reports from Cape Town that Western Province’s director of coaching, Rassie Erasmus, has given up on former Sharks scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar.

The Stormers had been hoping to sign a loan agreement with Ulster which would enable Pienaar to play for them in the closing stages of this year’s Super Rugby.

Last week Pienaar’s agent, Gerrie Swart, confirmed there had been talks with the Stormers and Ulster, but the plan has now, apparently, been ditched. It is believed that financial considerations were a factor in the talks falling through.

The Stormers, sweating over the fitness of Springbok centre Jaque Fourie, are in Auckland preparing for Friday’s Super Rugby clash against the second-placed Blues.

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