The Sharks can be expected to make some team changes as they look to bounce back in Saturday’s crunch clash against the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Durban-based side enjoyed an ideal start to the season when they banked back-to-back bonus-point wins against the Sunwolves and Blues, but they experienced a reality check in Saturday’s loss to the Stormers.
It was always expected to be the Sharks’ most physical battle to date, and with that in mind, they will be mightily disappointed with the manner in which they fronted up against a Stormers side that outmuscled them on the day.
With Eben Etzebeth leading the charge for the Stormers, the home side were largely denied front-foot ball, battled to exit with any momentum, and were occasionally too lateral in their play.
The Sharks certainly won’t be panicking after a steady start to the season – they are still in second place on the overall standings – but they will be desperate to produce an emphatic response this Saturday.
As it is, the Sharks will be wary of a new-look Bulls side that is riding a wave of confidence, particularly after comprehensively coming up trumps in the forward battle against the Lions last Saturday.
The Bulls will still be without influential Bok lock Lood de Jager, but young Eli Snyman impressed in his absence at Ellis Park, while the likes of Schalk Brits and Duane Vermeulen have added a new dimension to their pack.
Handré Pollard has taken over the captaincy from De Jager, and when he was asked what was key to the Bulls’ 30-12 win over the Lions on Saturday, he said it was the performance of the pack.
‘There’s no doubt about it, the eight guys who started and those who came off the bench. Usually we are in the game for 50 or 60 minutes, and then the wheels come off, but this time we stuck at it for the full 80 and it was brilliant.’
The Sharks will have taken note of these improvements from the Bulls, and will be fully aware that they have to nullify the strengths of the Pretoria-based side up front if they are to snatch victory on Saturday.
Interestingly, coach Robert du Preez has already hinted that the Sharks may look to enforce a rotation strategy that they had planned for this season.
The Sharks have been missing the workhorse performances of flankers Philip van der Walt and Jean-Luc du Preez, and one wonders whether Du Preez Snr might be tempted to hand talented youngster Phendulani Buthelezi a starting opportunity.
The 19-year-old impressed off the bench against the Stormers, making five carries and 13 tackles after coming on with just over half an hour to play, while there may be an opportunity for Thomas du Toit and Juan Schoeman to rotate in for a start up front.
Among the backs, scrumhalf Cameron Wright and centre Jeremy Ward would certainly not be out of place in the starting lineup, while it remains to be seen if Curwin Bosch overcomes the injury that belatedly saw him withdrawn from the match-day squad last weekend.
‘We always said that we would be making changes as part of our rotation policy, and we will,’ Du Preez commented after the defeat to the Stormers.
The clash between the Sharks and Bulls will kick off at 5.15pm on Saturday.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images