The Sharks and the Bulls will both need to make some changes to their respective teams going into Saturday’s crunch derby at Loftus Versveld. Herewith, my take on what each team should be thinking.
The home team have been boosted by the news that both lock Bakkies Botha and winger Akona Ndungane should be available for selection. This will go some way to offset the anticipated loss of Marius Delport to injury, as well as the potential suspension of JP Nel and loose forward Dewald Potgieter. By the time you read this, you will know the fate of the latter pair, but I am making the assumption that neither will be available for the showdown this weekend.
The Bulls quite patently need the extra oomph that Botha adds to the tight five and although he and Danie Rossouw are both really number 4 locks, the champions would do well to hand Bakkies the number 5 shirt on Saturday and play him in tandem with Paksale. Wilhelm Steenkamp can come on to add a more athletic option once the two hard men have done the business for the first hour. I still maintain that the Bulls need to replace Kuün at hooker and it is with this in mind that he further injury to Chilliboy Ralepelle is a cruel blow indeed. Although James van der Walt is hardly the most exciting member of that prolific rugby fraternity, but he might just round out what should be a vastly tougher tight five if given the opportunity to start. Jaco Engels and Kuün on the bench could add some impetus coming on in the second half.
In the loose forwards, Stegmann, van Heerden and Wannenberg will probably continue as a combination that is not short on pace. Without Potgeiter to come on, the Bulls have nowhere else to look but to Hilton Lobberts as the loose forward reserve. At least he adds bulk and aggression to the equation, although finesse is sadly not one of his stronger traits.
Assuming they persist with Hougaard at flyhalf, about the best centre combination the Bulls can field at the moment would see Morne Steyn at 12 and Wynand Olivier outside him. Ndungane’s return, at least, saves them from fielding possibly the least experienced back three in Super Rugby history in Demas, Mametsa and Kirchner. Expect Ndungane and Mametsa to be the wings, with Demas, Heinie Adams and one of their Vodacom Cup centres on the bench.
The Sharks have fewer injuries to contend with, although the news that Bismarck du Plessis won’t play is a huge blow. Expect Burden to come straight in – a move which may backfire unless his lineout work has improved dramatically in the off season. The rest of the tight five should remain unchanged, with Skipper Badenhorst possibly coming onto the bench in the number 16 shirt.
It’s in the loose forwards that I feel the Sharks really need to make a change; AJ Venter has looked badly off the pace in the two outings to date and I would recommend the slightly unorthodox move of playing Albert van den Berg at blindisde flank, in the hope that by means of speed and guile, he can achieve what Venter has struggled to through his brute force approach. Venter covers both lock and flank from the bench, allowing Keegan Daniel, who always seems to come right at Loftus, to occupy the fourth bench forward spot.
The unavailability of Ruan Pienaar may well play into the Sharks hands, as Kockott looked far sharper when he came on last week and frankly is a bloody good man to have starting in a big game such as this. Fred Michalak can cover scrumhalf if need be, so I would resist the temptation to bring Macleod in and rather consider including another forward in the 22, perhaps even Lensing, in case things get ugly up front.
Although the Sharks back division really didn’t get going against the Stormers, I would resist the temptation to make wholesale changes at this stage, other than to find a starting spot for Stefan Terblanche, on the right wing. Odwa Ndungane looked seriously underdone against the Stormers and I feel a bench role might suit him better this week.
So – this is how I would select the two teams, were I responsible for doing so:
15 Kirchner, 14 Mametsa, 13 Olivier, 12 Steyn, 11 Ndungane, 10 Hougaard, 9 du Preez, 8 Wannenburg, 7 van Heerden, 6 Stegmann, 5 Botha, 4 Rossouw, 3 Gerber, 2 van der Walt, 1 Steenkamp
16 Kuün, 17 Engels, 18 Steenkamp, 19 Lobberts, 20 Adams, 21 Dippennaar/Watermeyer 22 Demas
15 Steyn, 14 Terblanche, 13 Murray, 12 Barritt, 11 Pietersen, 10 Michalak, 9 Kockott, 8 Kankowski, 7 van den Berg, 6 Botes, 5 Muller, 4 Ackermann, 3 Botha, 2 Burden, 1 Mtawarira
16 Badenhorst, 17 du Plessis, 18 Lensing, 19 Venter, 20 Daniel, 21 Jacobs, 22 Ndungane