Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - It
is effectively the first widespread “Springbok trial” of World Cup year.
Bulls in Johannesburg and Sharks v Stormers in Durban on Saturday: all four
home-based Super Rugby franchises involved in a pair of full-blooded derbies.
As much as
he will be anxious for major injuries to stay away - slightly forlorn hope,
maybe? - Bok head coach Rassie Erasmus will be watching certain match-ups with
selection of just four, two from each contest:
Elton Jantjies (Lions) v Handre
of the Super Rugby season, devoted flyhalf/kicking guru Vlok Cilliers told me
he fancied Pollard and Jantjies, in that order, were some way clear of any
others as top two at this point in Erasmus’s No 10 plans for this critical
changed since the campaign began to suggest he is wide of the mark: both have
hit the ground pleasingly running.
that backdrop, the pair going head to head on Saturday - and with their
slightly contrasting styles - is a particularly enticing prospect.
have strong leadership responsibilities in the Highveld derby, into the
bargain: Pollard assumes the Bulls’ captaincy with Lood de Jager injured, while
Jantjies remains the Lions’ deputy on the day despite Malcolm Marx filling
Warren Whiteley’s shoes as their skipper for the first time.
should be a very tight one, so their respective accuracies off the tee may well
be influential; Pollard led the points-scoring in the competition after two
rounds with 32, indicating his particularly conspicuous form in that department.
meeting is at Jantjies’ favourite stomping ground, where his subtle, silky
skills so often come into play for the Lions, and it is unlikely the host
franchise will deviate from their fast-paced, ball-in-hand attacking game which
suits the left-footed pivot so well.
Malcolm Marx (Lions) v Schalk Brits
generally steered clear of major criticism for his Bok squad/team picks thus
far, but one that has ruffled some feathers - inevitably, considering his
unusually advanced age - is that of the well-travelled, eternally effervescent
Brits among his arsenal of hookers.
will be 38 in May, has kept younger customers like the Sharks’ popular Akker
van der Merwe out of the mix, to the ire of many Durban people in particular,
but if he shines in this tussle with the brawny Bok first choice Marx, it will
go a long way to routing the knockers.
der Merwe and Bongi Mbonambi locking horns in Durban is another good ‘un at No
2 this weekend, Marx v Brits arguably catches the eye more because of the intriguing
clash of both styles and physiques.
Marx is the
bigger “rumbler” of the pair, with his strength on the drive and use of those
vast shoulders over the ball at the breakdown, but what Brits concedes on the
scale (at least 15kg) he makes up with his still-admirable athleticism and
stepping skills - already the impact of his vast experience at Loftus is being
That said, Brits
and company in the visitors’ front row may come under pressure at scrum-time,
where Marx and his props, Dylan Smith and Carlu Sadie, should fancy their
chances of applying significant heat ...
Ruan Botha (Sharks) v JD Schickerling
There is a
pretty well-stocked frontline tier of Bok locks, when you consider the
attractive World Cup credentials of Messrs Etzebeth, De Jager, Mostert and
Snyman just for starters.
will also be working with some gusto on his next-in-line options in a berth
where the physical demands of the job can be murderous and injury rates high as
So in some
senses we will be watching an SA ‘A’ kind of scrap at No 5 at Kings Park,
between respective tall trees Botha (2.04m) and Schickerling (2.03m).
is some four years younger at 23, and Erasmus gave some hints of his regard for
his potential by including him in his broader squad for the 2018 end-of-year
shouldn’t mean that Botha, a former Stormers employee, is out of the picture by
any means: he is a powerful specimen to go with his height gifts, and will be
part of a Sharks eight anticipating physical mastery of a visiting pack still
missing the services of injured loose-head ace Steven Kitshoff.
Dan du Preez (Sharks) v Sikhumbuzo
Hello ... will
this game virtually be a re-run of the Currie Cup final, which still seems like
yesterday? In certain ways, yes.
occasion, more specifically on October 27 at Newlands last year, several Sharks
players were smarting before kick-off at the knowledge already that they
weren’t making the cut for the Boks’ European tour: very much included were the
Du Preez loose forward twins, Jean-Luc and Dan.
rangy Western Province eighth-man Notshe did earn a passage ... and the quite
likely “cheesed-off factor” helped Dan convincingly eclipse his positional
battle on the day.
to Notshe, he wasn’t the only tour-bound player from the ranks of the pre-final
favourites to play second fiddle to a direct foe; the Sharks ended worthy 17-12
But now he
gets a fairly speedy opportunity anyway to level the score in a personal
context with Du Preez, who is likelier to be the more effective of the two at
close quarters but with Notshe hoping to out-pace him in wider areas of the
back-up to Duane Vermeulen in the Bok No 8 berth, remember, has become
additionally important due to the latest injury setback to Warren Whiteley ...
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