Will Sharks be prepared to put the bite on Bulls at Loftus?
FOR as long as the fat lady is yet to sing, the impossible remains possible in this year’s Super Rugby competition and the Bulls could find themselves delightful recipients of the Crusaders’ victory over the logleading Chiefs yesterday.
The Crusaders not only enhanced their chances of staging an unlikely coup and overthrowing the Chiefs as New Zealand conference champions but they also left the door open for the Bulls to go top of the combined standings if they beat the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld tonight.
The Sharks, though, will be hoping for more favour from New Zealand sides with the result of the match between the Cheetahs and Blues in Bloemfontein having a massive bearing on whether the coastal team will make the play-offs.
If the Cheetahs beat the Blues then the Sharks being at Loftus will just be a matter of fulfilling the fixture.
But if the Blues win, then the Sharks will be playing in their most important match of the season tonight.
With a winning streak of eight consecutive matches and not having lost a game at home this year, the Bulls will want to move from likely home semifinalists to guaranteeing themselves home ground advantage in their last two matches of the competition.
Before getting carried away with all the possibilities of the next coming weeks, the Bulls will need to focus on the job at hand tonight and that will be defeating what will be a stubborn and unrelenting Sharks team.
The thing about the Sharks is that they always come to Loftus ready to fight until the death and at this late stage of the season it always seems as though matches between the two have much at stake.
Even though Bulls captain Dewald Potgieter smartly sidestepped the issue of them holding some kind of psychological advantage over the Sharks this year after beating them in Durban and being by far the best of the South African franchises, it will be the abundance of unlikely results through the season that would have made Potgieter particularly wary of the Sharks.
What will work for the Bulls is that their focus has not been divided between what they need to do on the field and what other teams are doing and regardless of what happened in Christchurch yesterday, theirs was always to win this game and continue to be in control of their destiny.
That destiny will again fall on the shoulders of one man, Morné Steyn.
It was Steyn that booted the Bulls to victory in Durban just over a month ago and it has been Steyn’s rich vein of form lately that has been pivotal to the Bulls victories.
It will be Steyn, again, who will need to dictate play with his boot by keeping the Sharks at bay and ensuring that the Bulls gain a territorial advantage.
Steyn’s boot will also be responsible for making sure that the scoreboard keeps ticking in favour of the hosts, while his decision-making will also be key in unleashing the Bulls’ deadly midfield combination of Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht.
Ultimately, it is the battle of the packs that will have a heavy influence on which team dominates proceedings.
Which of the all-Springbok front rows will dominate and who will win the battle of the breakdown and collision?
“They are a solid unit with a solid pack of forwards. It is the same unit that played last year with a great run to the final. We respect them and we know what they bring. It will be a great test for both teams,” said Bulls coach Frans Ludeke. Bulls: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Morné Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Dewald Potgieter (capt), Jacques Potgieter, Deon Stegmann, Grant Hattingh, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Frik Kirsten, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Jono Ross, Jano Vermaak, Jürgen Visser, Morné Mellett. Sharks: Riaan Viljoen, Odwa Ndungane, Louis Ludik, Butch James, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Charl McLeod, Keegan Daniel (capt), Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Franco van der Merwe, Edwin Hewitt, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Wiehahn Herbst, Jandré Marais, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Cobus Reinach, Jaco van Tonder Referee: Jason Jaftha
VITAL FOR BULLS: Morné Steyn.