Preview: Sharks v Blue Bulls

Date published: September 24 2015

The Sharks are under pressure to keep their play-off hopes alive when they host the Blue Bulls in Durban on Friday.

The men from Durban have had a rocky start to their campaign as they've struggled to find form, but victories over the Kings and Pumas have kept them in the hunt for a semi-final berth, just.

The Sharks are going into the clash following back-to-back losses against Western Province and the Lions, which have left them at fifth place on the overall log, having accumulated just 13 points during the campaign. 

The men in black will have to get a bonus-point win over the Blue Bulls to keep their play-off hopes alive, but it will be a daunting task seeing that the Bulls will be keen to end their losing streak.

The Bulls also enter the clash off the back of consecutive losses after suffering their first defeat of the season against the Golden Lions a fortnight ago. That was followed by the men from Pretoria's disappointing performance at Newlands on Friday, which saw Western Province claim a 29-14 victory over them.

A string of missed opportunities cost the Bulls a chance of closing the gap on the Lions at the top of the Currie Cup table as handling errors and strong defence by WP saw the Bulls leave Cape Town with their second loss of the campaign and four points off the pace.

Bulls captain Lappies Labuschagne will play in his 50th Currie Cup match but his only concern is getting the team back on track.

"It is nice to play 50 matches in the Currie Cup. It remains one of the best competitions to be involved in, but to be honest, the team comes before that," said Labuschagne.

"We need to step up to the mark we left earlier in the season. We slipped off the pace in the last two weeks, so everyone is aware of the urgency and accuracy we need if we want to beat the Sharks in Durban."

Team news: Philip van der Walt will captain the Sharks as Marco Wentzel starts on the bench. Coach Gary Gold has also included Christiaan de Bruin in the starting XV, where he will compete at flank, while Dave McDuling replaces Wentzel at lock.There are three changes to the Bulls starting XV. Labuschagne will fill in for Roelof Smit (wrist injury), while Arno Botha will join the starting line-up at the base of the scrum. Team management will also implement straight swaps in the fly-half and centre positions ahead of the trip to Durban, where Jan Serfontein will replace his former schoolboy captain Dries Swanepoel, while Tian Schoeman will start at pivot ahead of Louis Fouche.

Prediction: This should be a close encounter but the men in Blue are due to win. Blue Bulls to win by 12 points.

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt (c), 7 Christiaan de Bruin, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Dave McDuling, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Gerhard Engelbrecht, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit. 
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper , 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Marco Wentzel , 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Heimar Williams, 22 Garth April.

Blue Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (captain), 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Ruan Steenkamp, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Dries Swanepoel

Date: Friday, 25 September
Kick-off: 20:00 local (18:00 GMT)
Venue: Growthpoint Kings Park
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Jaco Pretorius
Television match official: Marius Jonker