Sharks in for a cracker

2015-02-28 00:00

The Sharks have gained confidence after an impressive win in wet weather last week and are looking to build momentum as they focus on consistent high-intensity performances. But the Bulls are sniffing at a comeback following two home defeats and it could be a case of a raging bull in a china shop at Loftus this afternoon. Once again, GARETH JENKINSON takes a look at four key match-ups ahead of another physical South African derby in Pretoria.


Andre Esterhuizen VS Jan Serfontein

Andre Esterhuizen

The 110 kg Esterhuizen comes in to beef up the Sharks backline in what is a rotational change — but it is a smart move considering the Bulls’ notorious direct approach. The 21-year-old had an industrious Currie Cup and proved to be a devastating ball runner and strike weapon in the Sharks backline while fronting up strongly on defence. He has a chance to measure himself against Serfontein — a regular in the Springbok midfield. If Esterhuizen can get the better of the Bulls inside centre, Heyneke Meyer will sit up and take notice of the rising talent. The young Shark will have to be aggressive, but he packs plenty of punch and only needs to manage his nerves. This looks set to be the match-up to watch out for.

Jan Serfontein

The Springbok centre has gleaned much from playing alongside Jean de Villiers in the Green and Gold. While he is arguably a natural 12, playing outside De Villiers has developed his understanding of midfield play, making him more versatile. He has been one of the standout performers in an undercooked Bulls outfit in the opening rounds of Super Rugby. But he is in for a busy night against the young Esterhuizen. Serfontein is no stranger to the rough stuff and he will not step back for the youngster. Expect the Bok to be used as a strike runner of first phase ball in between cutting down the bulky Esterhuizen on defence.


Pat Lambie VS Handré Pollard

Pat Lambie

The Springbok pivot has enjoyed a positive start to 2015 with two classy performances for the Sharks. While they lost their first game to the Cheetahs due to an underperforming pack, it was Lambie who stole the show against the Lions with a pin-point kicking game in testing wet conditions. Today’s match will be a similar affair as playing at Loftus demands an accurate kicking game. The 24-year-old’s boot will have to be on point again, as territory will be important in pressurising the Bulls pack. He has Esterhuizen outside him, while Cobus Reinach can also alleviate pressure from the base of the rucks. Lambie could prove to Heyneke Meyer that he is the go-to man for the Boks at the World Cup if he outplays Handré Pollard.

Handré Pollard

Pollard has been another one of the Bulls’ shining lights in the opening rounds of their campaign. Coming off a stellar 2014, Pollard is battling it out with Lambie for the Bok job and tonight is a chance for both to prove who is top dog in the pecking order. Pollard is at home which will help the nerves and he will have a better handle on the Highveld conditions. He will lead the Bulls’ aerial assault while unleashing his outside backs when they are in favourable positions on the park. Pollard needs to take control of his forwards and get them into the right parts of the field if they are to outplay a Sharks pack which seems to be realising their potential. The battle of the pivots will be massive.


Ryan Kankowski VS Pierre Spies

Ryan Kankowski

Kankowski’s dancing feet will once again skip away in a Sharks jersey as he makes his return to Super Rugby. Three years of rugby in Japan and Durban have left the exciting number eight out of the minds of many supporters but his pedigree is undeniable. The most important thing is the speed at which Kankowski returns to Super Rugby level. While he is looking in prime condition, the Highveld will be a real test of current form coming off a relatively easy Japanese league. He takes on Spies — reigniting a battle between two highly rated Springbok number eights. While Kanko is always good in the loose, he needs to step up physically this weekend to Spies and the rest of the Bulls pack in the tight phases.

Pierre Spies

The Bulls desperately need Spies to start playing with the ferocity and intensity he showed when he first burst onto the Springbok scene. Once a devastating ball carrier, Spies has lost that physical edge over the years and needs to spark the flame if he is to reclaim his spot in the Springbok fold. There is no doubt he is still a phenomenal eighthman and few come close to his level of conditioning. He needs to carry the ball strongly tonight while stepping up to the plate defensively — where he has been criticised in the past. If he can lead from the front and inspire his pack the Bulls could be difficult to stop at home.


Pieter-Steph du Toit VS Victor Matfield

Pieter-Steph du Toit

The Sharks welcomed Du Toit back at the start of the season after a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Having fully recovered from a debilitating knee injury, the Springbok lock has been a standout in the Sharks pack. He’s been dominant at the set piece and is the Sharks go-to man at lineout time. His bulk in the engine room has helped solidify the Sharks scrum and, with the acquisition of Giant Mtyanda, the Sharks have a beefy yet mobile second row. Du Toit has been solid in open play and has carried strongly on attack. His bone-crunching hits have already told early in the season and he needs to produce more of the same tonight. He faces a real test at lineout time against the old master Victor Matfield — but will it be a case of the student overcoming the master?

Victor Matfield

The 37-year-old Springbok veteran is under heavy scrutiny after a lack-lustre start to the tournament. Former Springbok prop Ollie le Roux said this week Matfield is playing like an “old man” and it’s difficult to argue with the legendary prop. Matfield, still a prodigy at the lineouts, lacks the physicality of yesteryear and, while he can still tackle and run with the ball, he struggles to get over the advantage line or make positive, crunching tackles. While Heyneke Meyer will no doubt need Matfield at the World Cup, he needs to dig deep and start playing harder rugby or face damaging his inspiring reputation. He will look to disrupt the Sharks lineout, which he will be able to, but needs to offer more around the park. Tonight is a big test for the Bok master.


Sharks: SP Marais, Odwa Ndungane, Waylon Murray, André Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Renaldo Bothma, Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Lubabalo ‘Giant’ Mtyanda, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (c), Dale Chadwick. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Thomas du Toit, Lourens Adriaanse, Marco Wentzel, Jean Deysel, Conrad Hoffmann, Fred Zeilinga/Lionel Cronje, Jack Wilson.

Bulls: Jesse Kriel, Bjorn Basson, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Francois Hougaard, Handré Pollard, Rudy Paige, Pierre Spies (c), Lappies Labuschagne, Deon Stegmann, Victor Matfield, Jacques du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Mornè Mellett. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling, Marcel van der Merwe, Grant Hattingh, Hanro Liebenberg, Tian Schoeman, Travis Ismaiel, Jürgen Visser.

Today’s fixtures

Chiefs vs Crusaders — 8.35 am

Rebels vs Brumbies — 10.40 am

Bulls vs Sharks — 5.05 pm

Lions vs Stormers — 7.10 pm

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