Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The collision aspect is always a monumental factor
in South African derbies and with the stakes so high for Friday night’s Super
Rugby meeting between the Sharks and Bulls in Durban, expect little or no
change to that hallmark.
Talk of “momentum” in sporting parlance has become an
overworked cliché to the point of amusement, but with both teams sporting
potentially destructive ball-carriers in their packs, the side that gets on the
front foot in the tight-loose the most may very well prevail on the scoreboard.
Even given the apparent likelihood that prime South African
loose forward “wrecker” Willem Alberts will miss this one through ongoing
effects of his knee problem picked up in the Johannesburg Test win over England
– frustratingly for the Sharks; comfortingly for the Bulls – there are still
more than enough powerful units on either side who will attempt to bludgeon
their way toward key dominance at Mr Price Kings Park.
Just for one thing, even an absent Alberts could still mean
a spicy tussle between blunt, uncompromising blindside flanks Jean Deysel for
the home side and the Bulls’ latest Springbok cap Jacques Potgieter.
Quality primary possession will go a long way to dictating
which team’s freight trains rumble the loudest on the night ... and the duel in
this regard could be fascinating because the visiting Bulls almost certainly
possess the more competent lineout whilst the Sharks are likelier to sport a
superior heave at scrum-time.
It has been several seasons, frankly, since the Sharks could
be said to belong among the super league of lineout units – they suffer through
not really possessing a genuine second-rower banker in this regard.
Their vulnerability looks even more pronounced when you
consider that experienced No 4 Steven Sykes, like Alberts, has been labouring
with a knee injury and misses this vital date. The franchise has also
off-loaded to European clubs such tall-timber customers as Alistair Hargreaves
and Ross Skeate.
It leaves Anton Bresler, the 24-year-old who is in only his
second season at Super Rugby level, as their senior second-rower right now, and
he is tipped to be partnered on Friday by either of Jandre Marais or utility
forward Pieter-Steph du Toit – the latter ever more impressive at blindside
flank as the Baby Boks marched to the IRB Junior World Championship title recently.
The Bulls, certainly on paper, hold the aces in the “skies”
through Victor Matfield’s nicely-progressing successor for both country and
Super Rugby side, Juandre Kruger, and also Pierre Spies’s effectiveness at the
tail of the lineout.
Say what you like about the consistency (or rather lack
thereof?) of his broader game, but this is one department where the Bulls
captain is in particularly sprightly form in 2012, both off his own intended
ball and as a havoc-wreaking poacher.
But at the scrums, things could just even out.
The front rows, it goes without saying, will be strong
determinants of which eight goes forward more markedly, and this could pretty
much be said to be a battle between the Bok ‘A and B’ groups of front-rankers.
Here the Sharks hold all the present aces because their
combination of Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis is
also the favoured first-choice trio of Bok coach Heyneke Meyer as things stand.
Between them, they do appear to have more destructive
qualities at the set-piece than the Bulls alliance of Dean Greyling, Chiliboy
Ralepelle and Werner Kruger.
Greyling is an emerging star, though primarily at this stage
due to his strength as a “bulldozer” with ball in hand, while the undoubtedly
hard-grafting, no-fuss tighthead Kruger faces lingering question marks over his
ability to become a really effective provider of that key right shoulder at
These two, remember, were the props of choice when the Boks,
then under Peter de Villiers’s tenure, opted to put out under-strength sides on
the away leg of the 2011 Tri-Nations, and both Australia and New Zealand saw
them off rather comfortably.
A suitably resilient showing from them on Friday against the
senior Bok incumbents would go a long way toward hiking their reputations once
more – certainly the same applies to hooker Ralepelle, who appears to have debatably
slipped to No 3 in the national pecking order, now beneath Adriaan Strauss as
well as formidable Sharks rival Du Plessis.
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