Sharks, Bulls: What's missing from both!

    2019-03-28 14:30

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - It is the most attractive game of the South African weekend, albeit on a lean Super Rugby programme for sides from the local conference - leaders the Lions experience a bye round.

    The fast-turnaround return derby between the Sharks and Bulls at Kings Park is a key encounter as the losers - unless we get an unlikely draw - will slip to a humdrum 50 percent win record after six matches and their ever-demanding Australasian tours, in each instance, yet to negotiate.

    Picking a winner on Saturday (15:05 kick-off) is a treacherous exercise: on the one hand, the Bulls notably dominated the first meeting at Loftus only three weeks ago, but then last weekend they were suddenly humiliated at home by the Chiefs whereas the Sharks comfortably enough disposed of the Rebels.

    Many of the jury, then, will be scratching their heads for Saturday; I know I am.

    For the moment the Lions, so often the country’s premier force over the past three or four seasons in the competition, have snuck back to the top of the admittedly tight SA table, and second overall.

    Not for the first time in recent years, either, their attack, in general terms, has looked brighter than that of compatriots.

    Despite their particularly debilitating run of injury hassles lately, it is reflected in their extremely healthy “tries for” record: 25 from six games at an average of 4.16 per outing.

    That is significantly better than the averages of all of the Sharks (3.2), Bulls (2.2) and especially Stormers (1.8).

    Yes, their concession rate (18 tries) is also the worst of the quartet, but that offensive punch also goes a long way to explaining their dominance of the South African scene in the tournament since 2016.

    They have gone to possibly damaging, unbalancing extremes lately, given the absence through long-term injury of bigger specimens like Cyle Brink (imminently fit again, apparently) and Warren Whiteley, but the fleet-footedness of their loose trios, I believe, is a major contributor to the relative ease with which they cross the proverbial whitewash.

    In the shape of Kwagga Smith, Marnus Schoeman, Hacjivah Dayimani and others, they have athletes with a special relish for linking play and the pace to effectively serve as extra backliners, in many senses - a surefire additional way of keeping opposition defences guessing.

    Of late, both of Saturday’s Durban combatants - as well as the travelling Stormers - have been fielding, by contrast, starting loosie alliances with an altogether more lopsided emphasis on physicality.

    There is no notable whippet, that’s for sure, among the Bulls loose trio to take on the Sharks, for all the plentiful qualities of world-wise No 8 Duane Vermeulen, in particular, plus flankers Ruan Steenkamp and (sometimes second-rower) Hanro Liebenberg.

    But if the Bulls cry out for a “stepper” and fast-from-the-blocks runner in their back row, so do the KwaZulu-Natalians, really, as they have not yet adjusted satisfactorily in that regard to the gradual phasing out in recent seasons of stirringly long-serving men like Keegan Daniel and Jacques Botes.

    When they were at their respective peaks, those two shared many of the open-play qualities - largely rooted in mobility - of current Super Rugby stars like Ardie Savea of the Hurricanes, the Waratahs’ Michael Hooper and Crusaders’ Matt Todd.

    Thus far in 2019, the Sharks, like their latest visitors from Pretoria, have been relying on rather more juggernaut individuals to make their hard yards - and often pretty slowly - from the loosie berths.

    With due respect to staple figures like Dan du Preez and Jacques Vermeulen, neither is ever likely to make the sort of cheeky break through a half-gap, dummy or double sidestep of a Bob Skinstad, say, in his electric prime.

    Nor are the Sharks loosies going to look any more subtle, of course, when Dan’s co-Springbok twin brother Jean-Luc, about as robust and uncompromising as they get, finally returns to fitness roughly for the second-half “turn” in ordinary season.

    That’s why, in the considerably shorter term, it will be interesting to see how rookie starter Luke Stringer, the former Rondebosch Boys High School dynamo, fares in his taxing promotion to No 6 against the Bulls this weekend.

    While not the most proven of open-siders (he has served in both other loose-forward spots) he looks a little more geared to rebalance the Sharks back three with an injection of fleet-footedness that could give the battle between the trios a useful point of difference ...



    15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Luke Stringer, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira 

    Substitutes: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Philip van der Walt, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Curwin Bosch


    15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handre Pollard (captain), 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka

    Substitutes: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Conrad van Vuuren, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Tim Agaba, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Johnny Kotze

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Friday, 26 April 2019
    • Crusaders v Lions, AMI Stadium 09:35
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