CRAIG LEWIS and WADE PRETORIUS debate which SA side would be favourites to come out on top when a local competition is able to be played.
LEWIS says the Vodacom Bulls
When Vodacom Super Rugby was brought to a halt in mid-March, Sharks coach Sean Everitt said they welcomed the break. It was an understandable sentiment considering the Durban-based side had gone through seven straight rounds of competition, which included a taxing four-week overseas tour.
As Everitt put it, the Sharks were ‘knackered’. However, as time passed and it became increasingly evident that Super Rugby as we know it would not be able to resume, the welcome break is sure to have turned to one of frustration.
After an important round-seven win over the Stormers, the Sharks had moved to the top of the overall standings, and while there was still plenty of action to take place, they were in a position of real ascendancy. Having successfully navigated a gruelling overseas tour, it appeared the in-form Sharks could be real contenders when the playoffs rolled around.
Instead, local competitions have become the order of the day due to the coronavirus-related travel bans. And now, for the Sharks, emerging triumphant in a South African tournament will surely be the priority when action finally gets underway.
Yes, the Durbanites will now be without the services of Japan-bound Makazole Mapimpi, but they have retained the majority of their squad despite a contentious 21-day contractual exit window, and they should still be well-placed to pick up from where they left off.
Before the break, Everitt’s charges had struck an impressive balance to their all-round play, with Curwin Bosch marshalling the troops superbly from flyhalf. Perhaps more than any other side, the Sharks will be desperate to get a promising season back under way.
PRETORIUS says the Bulls
While he divides opinion wherever he goes, Jake White also – for the most part – achieves success. He now faces one of his greatest challenge to prove his place in the local game after taking the helm of the Bulls.
The 2007 World Cup winner has always done things his way and his Loftus stint so far shows that nothing has changed. It’s almost impossible to keep track of the arrivals and exits at the Bulls, a franchise in dire need of renovation after a poor start to the 2020 campaign.
That said, the new-look local conference tournament will play directly into White’s hands. He will no doubt instil an ‘us against them’ mentality within his camp, one that he has handpicked for the task.
The Bulls should play a pragmatic World Cup-style game plan. Expect plenty of physicality up front and only rare moments of expansive backline play. But Bulls fans will not care about style because the rest of the year will be about substance and grinding the team out of the melee they found themselves in after winning just one of six games at the start of this season’s Super Rugby competition.
The Bulls have brought in experience – detractors will no doubt label these players ‘over the hill’ – with a sprinkling of youth, and could yet land the biggest surprise punch if White can ensure his side hit the ground running. The arrivals of highly-regarded players such as Arno Botha, Nizaam Carr, Sintu Manjezi, Marcel van der Merwe, Walt Steenkamp and Gio Aplon should be enough to get the franchise back off the canvas.
The Stormers showed their Jekyll and Hyde nature earlier the year, and while the Sharks will start any local competition as favourites, the rug of momentum has been pulled out from beneath them.
If the Blues can surprise in Aotearoa with an early sequence of wins, there’s no reason to believe White can’t return the Bulls to the top of the podium.