Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Durban - The Bulls are talking about Saturday’s big match at Kings Park as if it is a final, and it appears they are not alone.
Although the Sharks, unlike the Bulls, can theoretically afford to lose the match and still be in with a chance of topping the South African conference, their coach John Plumtree regards it as a must-win as a victory will serve the dual purpose of both shutting out the defending champions and keeping the pressure on the table topping Stormers.
“It’s crunch time, for sure. It’s all to play for in a wide open competition,” said Plumtree after his squad had come together for a training session following their weekend off.
“The pressure is on everybody. It is going to be a very intense run-in over the next five weeks because only a few teams are completely out of the running. Everybody is pushing hard and, for us, four of our five games are local derbies and three of those are away from home.”
The Sharks’ run-in to the end of the season certainly does look a lot tougher now than it did a few weeks ago. Back then the Cheetahs, Lions and even the Bulls were struggling and looked like they might be soft touches, but all three of them have bounced back into form in recent weeks and the Cheetahs and Lions won’t necessarily be easy to beat on their home grounds.
The Sharks play the Bulls twice – they follow up this weekend’s fixture with an away trip to Loftus in the last league game – so that should up the ante for them to win on Saturday as it might lessen the Bulls’ resolve for later matches, with top players even possibly in line to take a rest as World Cup considerations take preference to what would effectively be dead rubber matches for them.
Plumtree was away for the weekend so did not get to see much of the Bulls win over the Rebels, but noted that while the Rebels did not play well and thus not too much could be read into the fixture, the big win would have built the Bulls’ confidence.
John Smit is back in training for the Sharks and will be considered for selection, as will Jacques Botes, who makes a timely return as Keegan Daniel is serving a suspension. The only Sharks player definitely not available is Ryan Kankowski, who fractured a cheek-bone in the recent bruising clash with the Stormers in Cape Town.