Former Springbok lock Albert van den Berg believes Pieter-Steph du Toit and the Sharks have the edge going into Saturday's clash with the Vodacom Bulls. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
After a 2014 season curtailed by injury, Du Toit's early-season form has been encouraging. He was one of the few players to put up his hand in the defeat to the Cheetahs, before turning in a strong all-round performance in the wet against the Lions.
His personal duel with Victor Matfield will be one of the many skirmishes across the park that have the potential to shape Saturday's Springbok-laden affair.
Van den Berg, who memorably scored a try in the Sharks' 2007 Super Rugby final defeat to the Bulls, believes the 22-year-old has the edge on his compatriot, despite being 15 years his junior.
'He's certainly a great prospect, both physically and in the lineouts,' he told SARugbymag.co.za. 'He has all the attributes to become a great player, not only for the Sharks but also for the Boks. He's mobile, athletic and deceptively quick for a guy of his size.
'He will be looking forward to testing himself against the best in a tough environment. Loftus can be an intimidating ground to visit, but he's a calm, composed young player and I don't think he'll be feeling the pressure.
His opposite number, Matfield, has come in for some criticism this week after a slow start to the season for the Bulls. However, Van den Berg says he remains a key contributor, highlighting his performance on defence against the Hurricanes at the weekend.
'I have a great deal of respect for Victor Matfield, for what he's done and how long he's managed to remain at the top,' he said. 'He still has the ability to make an impact at this level. Just look at the weekend, he made the most tackles against the Hurricanes.'
'He always backs himself in the lineout, and with good reason. However, when it comes to all-round contribution, perhaps Du Toit has the upper hand.'
With so much focus on the lineouts, it's easy to overlook the impact the scrums might have on the outcome of Saturday's match.
The Sharks recovered well against the Lions after a shaky start in their first match against the Cheetahs, while the Bulls have struggled in their opening two matches.
'The return of Bismarck [du Plessis] helped restore the composure at the weekend,' said Van den Berg. 'He brings a great deal of experience, and the team seemed to settle around him.
'There seemed to be a bit of overconfidence going into the game against the Cheetahs. Danie Mienie had left the Sharks after not making the grade, so he had a point to prove.
'They underestimated the Cheetahs and paid the price. Any team at this level is capable of causing problems. I don't think they'll do the same against the Bulls.'
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