Pretoria - The Sharks may be occupying first place on the Currie Cup log, but they will have to be cautions of a Blue Bulls side fighting for survival when the teams meet at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday.
The Bulls kept their hopes of a semi-final berth alive following a ruthless 52-10 routing of Griquas in Kimberley last weekend, to lift them within a point of the fourth-placed Free State Cheetahs.
In their first-round encounter the coastal side beat the Bulls 34-18 in Durban, but Sharks flanker Jacques Botes believed the hosts will pose a different challenge this time around.
"The Bulls are desperate but they are also a different team than they were in the first round, they are coming off a nice victory against Griquas in Kimberley," said Botes, who will be equalling Helgard Muller’s 142-match record for the most appearances in the Currie Cup on Friday.
"Their confidence is definitely higher than it was earlier in the competition and the Sharks and Bulls, historically, have always been a big match, whether it is here or at Kings Park."
Speaking at a Sharks sponsorship announcement in Johannesburg on Thursday, Botes said the traditional rivalry between the two sides will also add to a tight battle.
"In the Currie Cup it is always an exciting game and we tend to bring the best out of each other, so we are really expecting a massive game from them as always," he said.
"The fact that there is so much on the line for them hoping to reach a semi-final spot is going to make it even bigger."
Bulls coach Pine Pienaar said while his team’s convincing victory over Griquas would have boosted the players’ confidence, the Pretoria outfit still needed to make the step-up against the leading team in the competition.
It is for that reason that he kept the team relatively unchanged for the match, hoping the combinations he had put his confidence in would pay off.
"The biggest thing is we are at the business end of the competition and we have to make sure that you keep the combinations," Pienaar said.
"The last two games for us are two finals in a row, we play Sharks here and we have to win to stay in the competition then we have to go to Bloemfontein and try win that game."
Pienaar said the Sharks were a different kettle of fish compared to Griquas and it would require a special effort from his team to come out on top.
"They are probably the most well-balanced side in the competition at the front... they ask a lot of questions from you on the gain-line," he said.
"They have the most experienced loose trio in the competition, they definitely have the better nines (scrumhalves) in the Currie Cup, in Cobus Reinach and Charl McLeod."
He said the Sharks’ back trio of Odwa Ndungane, Lwazi Mvovo and SP Marais posed a serious threat, particularly on the counter attack, and his team had to ensure they were not given the opportunity to attack from the back.
"For us it is about how we can prepare and how we can put them under pressure, that is the biggest task for us," Pienaar said.
"They have a certain plan they want to bring to us and we have a certain plan we want to play."
15 Jurgen Visser,
14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn
Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7
Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Paul
Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
16 Bandise Maku, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques
Engelbrecht, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Ulrich Beyers, 22 Sampie Mastriet
SP Marais, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Tim Whitehead, 12. Heimar Williams,
11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Fred Zeilinga, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Keegan Daniel
(captain), 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Stephen Lewies, 4. Peet
Marais, 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 2. Kyle Cooper 1. Dale Chadwick
16. Monde Hadebe, 17. Danie Mienie, 18. Edwin Hewitt, 19. Marcell
Coetzee, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Butch James, 22. Louis Ludik