JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the big Vodacom Super Rugby game at Loftus Versfeld.
I have to agree with Jake White. The Sharks cruised to a comfortable win against the Reds last week by virtue of a commanding first-half performance. The second stanza, however, was characterised by inconsistency as well as some bizarre on-field calls, which White later criticised.
How can the players not know how many tries they've scored? The Sharks have been good this season, and I still believe they are title favourites. But damn, surely every rugby player can count to four. Somebody in a team of 15 must have known that kicking for touch and pushing for the try wasn't the right way to go, especially since the game was still in the balance and the Sharks were nowhere within sight of the four-try mark.
In a sense, White should be pleased that the Sharks stuttered in the second half of last week's clash. There won't be any complacency when they head to Loftus this Saturday.
The Sharks may have won four from four, but this weekend's game marks their first away from home. The Bulls have improved since they last played the Sharks, and will be more competitive at the breakdowns and lineouts. Dewald Potgieter will make his comeback this Saturday, and should lend the Bulls more presence at the tackle. The Bulls will aim to slow and frustrate the Sharks' attack, although they will have to be mindful of their discipline. Pat Lambie has been kicking well from the tee and Frans Steyn won't think twice about lining up a penalty attempt from 60m out.
This will mark the Sharks' first real test, and it's one they should pass. That said, it won't be easy. Bulls No 5 Victor Matfield will also look to target that Sharks lineout, and it certainly won't be a fixture where the men from Durban have everything their own way.
Prediction: Sharks by 6
Unlike Cardinelli, I don't think the insanity of last weekend was a point worth harping on. The team had a brain freeze that ultimately didn't prove to be terminal to their cause. It won't happen again. Let's move on.
And move on is exactly what the Sharks' primary ball-carriers are expected to do in the capital. The success of their multi-phase method has been rooted in the effectiveness of the runners at their disposal.
The Bulls have certainly improved since their dismal start, but they haven't been tested in a way the Sharks will and I fear they don't have the personnel to underpin their defensive mission for 80 minutes.
The Sharks, in contrast, have answers to every potential avenue of attack the Bulls could venture down. Their attack from broken field has been solid and with the Bulls lacking a tactical kicker of the highest quality this is an area of the game the visitors could prosper in. Their dominance of the gainline will mean they control the flow and tempo of the match for large periods and they are likely to add to their already impressive point-scoring record.
Furthermore, their bench will give them a greater injection of power than the Bulls' will. Expect the Sharks to do the double on their big rivals.
Prediction: Sharks by 12
Bulls – 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 J J Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Marcel vd Merwe, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 Ulrich Beyers, 23 Morné Mellet
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 André Esterhuizen.
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