The Bulls will need to protect the breakdown, with particular focus on Marcell Coetzee, if they're to get anything out of Saturday's match at Loftus, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
No team has conceded more turnover ball than the Bulls in the 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby season. It's a damning fact, and one that needs addressing.
Sure, their lineout may be shaky and their scrum a hollow shell of the one that saw them to three Super Rugby titles in four years, but it's their inability to keep the ball through phases, and build pressure on the opposition, that's seen them struggle this season.
This is not a new revelation. They struggled against thriftier sides during last year's competition and, despite boasting the best lineout and a solid scrum, they ended the season with the fewest tries.
While a match can be lost in the set pieces, it's won during open play. In Bismarck du Plessis and Coetzee, the Sharks have players to disrupt the Bulls and slow down their service. Win the breakdown battle, and the rest will follow.
Coetzee has come a long way since bursting onto the scene with bristling energy and a disregard for his own well-being. Sharks coach Brad Macleod-Henderson even went so far as to call him 'the world's best openside' earlier this season.
While that point remains debatable, he has certainly matured well into the openside role. Deon Stegmann, Pierre Spies and Lappies Labuschagne will need to be at their best if they're to provide the quick, quality ball the Bulls need to crack open the Sharks defence.
The Bulls have made minimal changes for this one. Piet van Zyl has paid the price for his sloppy performance against the Hurricanes, with Rudy Paige taking his place in the only change to the starting XV. Meanwhile, Springbok prop Marcel van der Merwe will make his return from the bench.
Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold has also done some tinkering to his side, with Ryan Kankowski and André Esterhuizen coming in for Tera Mtembu and Heimar Williams respectively.
The Bulls need to rally. Defeat to the Sharks will be another damaging blow to their hopes of finishing atop the South African conference come June.
However, they'll need to match the intensity of Coetzee and co at the breakdown if they're serious about going far in this competition. Failure to do so will result in another defeat and their worst start to a Super Rugby season in a decade.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 13, Sharks 9, Draw 2
In Pretoria: Bulls 7, Sharks 4, Draw 1
STATS AND FACTS
– Of sides currently in the competition, the Bulls are the only South African representatives to hold a positive win/loss record over the Sharks (won 13, drew two, lost nine).
– That includes seven wins in their last 10 meetings. Meanwhile, their last 12 wins over the Sharks have been by single-figure margins.
– The Bulls have conceded the most turnovers so far (34), though the Sharks have coughed up 33 themselves.
– Lappies Labuschagne has made the most tackles so far this Super Rugby season (36/37).
– The Bulls last lost their first three games of the season in 2005.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Bulls||Handré Pollard (25)||Deon Stegmann, Handré Pollard (1)||Jesse Kriel (133)||Lappies Labuschagne (36)|
|Sharks||Pat Lambie (33)||Marcell Coetzee (2)||SP Marais (163)||Marcell Coetzee (20)|
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Mornè Mellett.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Travis Ismaiel, 23 Jürgen Visser.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Marco Wentzel, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga/Lionel Cronje, 23 Jack Wilson.
Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix