It’s shaping up to be a real belter in Durban on Saturday, with the two front-running sides meeting in a mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash in the ABSA Currie Cup.
Both the 1st-placed Blue Bulls and the 2nd-placed Sharks have only lost twice so far in this year’s competition, with a single point separating them on the log. The winner of Saturday’s game will be assured of top spot heading into next week and will make huge strides in their own quest to host a semi-final this year. The loser may well end up third, should Free State manage to squeak home against Western Province.
Both sides have taken the opportunity to bolster their teams with returning Springboks and for the Bulls, this means they again boast a formidable second row, comprising stand-in Bok skipper Victor Matfield and the uncompromising Danie Rossouw. Number 8 Pierre Spies is also back in the mix and it’s a pretty clear indication of the loose-forward depth at the Bulls that they have opted to leave Pedrie Wannenberg out of the 22 altogether this weekend.
Matches against the Bulls will always be lost if your pack doesn’t stand up to theirs. They are masters of set-piece play and are particularly strong at the tackle point, committing big men in numbers to ensure slow ball for their opposition. The Sharks forwards have been in mean form of late and were particularly good in this area themselves against Western Province, their most recent game against decent opposition. Bok props Jannie du Plessis and Deon Carstens will have the edge over the Bulls’ duo of Jaco Engels and Werner Kruger, while each side has a hooker prone to alternating bursts of brilliance and mediocrity. In Bismarck du Plessis and Pat Cilliers, the Sharks have an exciting duo able to add impact in the front row coming from the bench. The Bulls have Springboks Guthro Steenkamp and Chilliboy Rallepele, together with a second prop, Rayno Gerber, on the bench.
In the second row, the Sharks will look to young Alistair Hargreaves to build on some promising performances of late when he joins captain Johann Muller in the second row. Muller himself is just coming back from injury and Hargreavs will need to play out of his socks to combat the physical threat posed by Rossouw and his pals. Coach John Plumtree seems to be covering his bases reasonably well here, with two regular locks, Albert van den Berg and Steven Sykes, named among the replacements.
The selection is an interesting one, given that the Sharks will have Keegan Daniel at number 8. Although the livewire Daniel has been in superb form of late, using his high workrate and superb pace to telling effect, one cannot argue that his lack of bulk potentially swings the arguement the way of the Bulls, particularly in a close, driving game. While Jean Deysel is a force of nature that not even the Bulls can hope to contain, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see Sykes come on to add some bulk to the back row if we end up losing ground in the forwards. The other option, of course, is to let Sykes partner Muller at lock and introduce van den Berg amongst the loosies. Skollie Ndlovu will presumably also have a role to play, while one shouldn’t underestimate the impace that blonde bombshell Dewald Potgieter could have for the visitors.
One runs the risk here, though, of weighing up players based on their ability to counter their opponents, though, rather than evaluating them on their own strengths. This is an area in which the selection of Daniel, in particular, may well be a masterstroke. Keegan has pace and skill aplenty and seems to love playing against the Bulls, who struggle to keep up wit the sheer intensity he brings to the game. If Deysel can keep Pierre Spies busy and potentially take his huge frame out of the equations, Keegan Daniel has more than enough guile to outwit the larger, yet slower Wikus van Heerden.
Hargreaves is also far more of a ball-player than Rossouw is and given Matfield’s propensity for playing loose, perhaps the combination with Muller may prove enough. Muller certainly doesn’t stand back an inch at the contact point. making the match up potentially even more entertaining.
In short, expect the forward battle to decide the outcome of the match, as it so often does. For the Sharks, Daniel and Hargreaves are the key men, as they will have the most to prove in a battle such as this. For the Bulls, it’s their perhaps underrated front-row who will need to show their mettle.Tweet