Vodacom Super 14
Bakkies 'answers' Bulls SOS
Durban - The Bulls, wary of a physical Sharks pack, are expected to rush back Springbok lock Bakkies Botha for Saturday’s big Super 14 crunch game at Loftus.
Botha, who has not played any rugby since December when he underwent an Achilles’ tendon operation, is back to full fitness and it seems certain he will be involved against the Sharks, either starting the game and playing until he runs out of puff or being used as an impact player off the bench in the second half.
The Sharks, with their revamped front-row of loosehead John Smit and the Du Plessis brothers and with the brawny Jean Deysel alongside the even bigger Willem Alberts at loose forward, have the muscle to trouble the Bulls. A fit Bakkies, who enjoys being regarded as the enforcer in every game he plays, would be a bonus for the Bulls but he may well be rusty after his five-month break.
While the Sharks will be without Bok wing JP Pietersen for the match, the Bulls have also lost one of their backs with centre Jaco Pretorius, who suffered ligament damage to his foot against the Lions on Saturday, also ruled out.
But the Bulls, who have won 16 games in a row at Loftus, have been lifted by the return to fitness of Bok wing Akona Ndungane and utility back Francois Hougaard while scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, on the bench against the Lions, will be back.
There is also huge interest in Pretoria ahead of Saturday’s game and supporters were queuing for tickets in the cold and rain when the ticket office opened at Loftus on Monday.
The log-leading Bulls have a five-point lead at the top of the log and two wins in their final three games should seal top spot for the champions.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke was on Tuesday talking up the Sharks ahead of the game. He told reporters that the changes head coach John Plumtree had made to the Sharks had transformed them into a genuine threat after five successive wins followed five defeats.
Ludeke said the changes to the front-row had resulted in the Sharks scrumming strongly against the best packs in the competition while the rejigged backrow (Alberts, Deysel and Jacques Botes) had proved particularly effective. He also praised young fullback Patrick Lambie and said that Stefan Terblanche’s shift to outside centre had brought experienced and stability to the backline.
The Bulls battled to overcome the Lions at the breakdown in the first half and led 12-8 at the change-over before running away with the game with six second-half tries.
Ludeke said they would have to improve against the Sharks who would contest the breakdowns for the full 80 minutes.
The Sharks are waiting on a number of fitness tests this week before naming their side tomorrow. Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar is nursing a sore knee while loose forwards Ryan Kankowski and Keegan Daniel are returning to action after weeks on the sidelines.
The match kicks off at 19:10 (SA time) on Saturday with referee Jonathan Kaplan in charge of what promises to be a volatile contest.