SARugbymag.co.za's panel of experts on why the Vodacom Bulls are struggling, the Sharks' revival and who they think will win at Loftus on Saturday.
COBUS VISAGIE (former WP and Bok prop)
'The importance of scrummaging and defending the lineout driving maul has increased in the past 18 months, and it's taken the sting out of the Bulls. Add to that poor scrummaging technique and a lack of adequate personnel and you can see why they are struggling. They need a secondary strike weapon because their attack is limited. Whereas the Sharks have the most talented pack of forwards in the competition, they just didn't play to their potential against the Cheetahs. An enticing battle between Victor Matfield and Pieter-Steph du Toit awaits on Saturday, but I'm backing age and experience over youth and enthusiasm. And I want to stress, it's unfair to judge Victor after two rounds. If you do, criticise his form, but to call for the end of his career on the evidence of two games is wrong. Scrum and breakdown penalties will be in favour of the Sharks at Loftus, and the halfbacks will have to create good field position and keep the scoreboard ticking. The Bulls will be competitive, but the Sharks will win because their halfback pairing [Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie] is tactically superior.'
JAMES DALTON (former Bok hooker)
'The Bulls have gone backwards, because they rely too heavily on their legacy of dominating packs. Those days have come and gone. They just don't have the personnel to pummel opponents into submission any longer. Perhaps it's time the Bulls look at other alternatives, they need to reinvent themselves. Victor Matfield needs to step up or step away and if he's holding something back in these early stages, he's doing an injustice to his legacy. The Sharks were much more focused against the Lions than against the Cheetahs, because of the effect Bismarck du Plessis has as a player – he brings out the best in everyone around him. Key positions for the game at Loftus will be the tighthead prop and locks for the Bulls and the Lambie-Reinach combination for the Sharks, who I think will win by a small margin.'
BRAAM VAN STRAATEN (former WP & Bok flyhalf)
'There are a number of things to debate regarding what's gone wrong for the Bulls but the key question is, are they switched on? The answer is “no” because the players' mindset is negative. People are aware of the Bulls' superiority but the game has changed. Players have become competent in defence, so the Bulls' 'bashing rugby' is outdated. They fail to test defenders and lack numbers in attack. They rely on one or two players to run through defences when they should use the entire team. The Sharks knew they had to beat the Lions last Saturday, and they showed more hunger. The Lions were under pressure from the start, as the rucks and collisions were dominated by the Sharks. The Sharks will win by 10 at Loftus on Saturday. The Bulls scrum has struggled and won't be able to contend with the powerful Sharks pack. Victor Matfield and Adriaan Strauss need to step up for the Bulls.'
CORNÉ KRIGE (former WP & Bok flank)
'The Bulls' biggest problem is a lack of cohesion within the pack. They need to understand one another and they don't. There's a lot of new personnel but they need to work well together. Predictability has also became their Achilles' heel. Running through players no longer exists in the game and their game plan needs to change. The weather levelled matters at Kings Park last Saturday and the Sharks beat the Lions because they made the least errors and took their scoring opportunities. The Sharks will beat the Bulls on Saturday at Loftus as they will dominate the scrum and breakdown. The forwards from both sides will have key roles to play as they will need to create front-foot ball for the flyhalves [Handré Pollard and Pat Lambie].'
JIMMY STONEHOUSE (former Pumas coach)
'Dean Greyling should start at loosehead prop for the Bulls. He will perform much better there because of his vast experience. As far as the Sharks are concerned, Bismarck du Plessis made a huge difference last week – Macolm Marx really struggled against him – and Pat Lambie knew exactly when to kick, pass and run. Saturday's match at Loftus is a do-or-die for the Bulls. The battle between Pieter-Steph du Toit and Victor Matfield, at the lineout and in open play, is something to look forward to.'
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images