JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the big Vodacom Super Rugby game at Kings Park on Saturday.
The outcome of this fixture could be monumental. The Sharks need to live up to the pre-season hype and take an early lead at the top of the South African conference, while the Vodacom Bulls need to challenge the predicted log finish by scoring a big upset in Durban.
South African derbies won't get any tougher for the Bulls in 2014, and to win at Kings Park would be a massive boost for their play-off ambitions. However, while it's not an impossible result, it is highly improbable.
The Bulls shouldn't expect miracles from Victor Matfield in this his first official game since December 2011. Their pack has been depleted by injuries in the pre-season and the defection of key players such as Jano Vermaak and Morné Steyn to France will further compromise their game plan.
By contrast, the Sharks halfbacks should thrive from a steady supply of front-foot ball. I can't see them playing too expansively given it's the first game of the season, and that home wins are a must for teams with title hopes. The Sharks will look to secure victory first rather than push for a four-try bonus.
Prediction: Sharks by 9
This fixture, this early in the campaign, may prove to be a blessing for the Bulls. Had they got the Sharks in, say, round five, I'd fear for them. However, with the Durban franchise expected to take a while to find their best form, and the humidity (estimated at 80% for Saturday) sure to compromise handling, the Bulls will come off lightly.
That's not to say they're in with significant chance of an upset. Their 23 has too little quality and experience to match the Sharks'. Most tellingly, they'll be without Morné Steyn, who, from the kicking tee, had scored 1,176 of the Bulls' 2,434 points since 2008 (the first season he started playing regularly). That's just over 48% of their points from a single player. Without him they won't have the quality of tactical-kicking game required put the Sharks under pressure.
They'll probably edge the lineouts, but that's as good as it will get for the three-time champions.
Prediction: Sharks by 10
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 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 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 S’bura Sithole.
Bulls – 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouchè, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handrè Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
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