I see two key areas in which the Sharks can really expect to get the upper hand on Saturday.
The front row is an area where the Sharks boast absolutely unparalleled depth – something the Bulls just can’t match. The real strength of the Sharks’ props is the amount of work they do around the field, in broken play and on defence. This, of course, is in addition to their basic role of scrum dominance. Beast Mtawarira is a real legend, with his trademark punches over the advantage line and massive tackles something that few looseheads can claim to do better. Jannie du Plessis is also big on defence, while in Deon Carstens, the Sharks have one of the the quickest, most skilful impact props in the country.
The Bulls, in contrast, boast a solid (if somewhat overrated) player in Gurthrö Steenkamp at loosehead. The big prop is very mobile and has good hands. He has never stood out as a great scrummager and I fully expect du Plessis to have the upper hand at scrum time. Rayno Gerber and Werner Kruger are both journeymen and although capable in the set pieces, neither really offers a hell of a lot outside of these areas.
Hooker, of course, is a complete no-brainer, with the Sharks battling to choose between two current Springbok hookers. Derick Kuün has always been known more for the size of his yapper than his impact on the game and he cannot hope to match Bismarck du Plessis’s all-round impact, either in the tight or the loose. Comparisons between John Smit and his one-time protégée, Malatse Rallepele, just don’t really make any sense at this stage either. No, I’m afraid the Sharks’ set of 5 Boks easily trumps what the Bulls have to offer.
Assuming that the loose forwards and halfbacks will cancel each other out, to an extent, I think that it’s in midfield where the Sharks have another area of potential supremacy. Frans Steyn is now really settling down nicely at inside centre and his defence, in particular, has been rock-solid the last few weeks. As his partnership with incumbent Bok outside centre Adi Jacobs develops, the two really do seem be understanding each other a lot better.
Last time the Sharks played the Bulls, the home team conspired to make Bulls centres Wynand Olivier and Marius Delport look far better than they actually are. The latter, in particular, cannot hope to live with Jacobs when the Sharks man is on form. What’s more, Olivier’s newly-discovered passing game tends to all but disappear when the pressure is on. Expect the blonde bombshell to keep the ball to himself all afternoon as he tries to run around Steyn – a tactic unlikely to prove successful this weekend.
On attack, the Sharks may just find a few gaps opening up as well later on, particularly if Jean Deysel manages to commit a defender or two before getting the ball out to Steyn and Jacobs. The Bulls don’t really have a midfield specialist on the bench, while the Sharks, in Brad Barritt and Waylon Murray, have a second established partnership to turn to, just in case the all-Springbok first-choice pair don’t have the desired impact.Tweet