Preview: Sharks v Bulls

Date published: April 17 2015

At a crossroads because of their poor recent performances the Sharks need no reminder that discipline will be as important is an air-tight defence when the host the Bulls in Durban on Saturday.

With only four points separating the sides in the South African conference standings, the team that ends up winning what should be an immensely physical battle may very well find some wind in their sails in the run-up to the playoffs.

Matches between these sides have traditionally been closely fought encounters with the Sharks statistically three points stronger than their visitors on any given day.

This season, however, the Bulls were great exponents of the lack of discipline that has plagued the coastal outfit and if they again manage to get under the skins of their hosts, it could be another long day at the office for Gary Gold’s men.

Of the 11 Super Rugby matches these sides have played in Durban the Sharks trail the Bulls by one as they have only won on five occasions while losing six times to their Pretoria rivals.

Overall the Sharks have faced the Bulls in 23 Super Rugby matches since 1998 and have nine wins, one draw and 13 losses to show for their efforts.

Most of those encounters have gone down to the wire. The Bulls have won eight of the last 11 instances of this fixture but never by a double-figure margin. This should again be the case when two sides with very contrasting levels of optimism take to the field.

Defence and discipline have been the buzzwords in Durban in the build-up to this contest and on both fronts Gold feels his men simply have to make a step up; and perhaps even indirectly answer sports betting calls for triumph.

"We should be proud of our defensive system, but we let ourselves down in that regard," Gold noted in the build-up.

"It wasn’t just the high missed tackle count, but there were also system errors, and that was very disappointing.

"One thing I cannot criticise is the intent and passion that we displayed on defence. It’s not like the guys didn’t want to make those tackles, they put in a brave performance, but we just have to be more accurate against the Bulls."

The last time these teams met: The Bulls outscored the Sharks four tries to two in Round 3. The Bulls got their first victory of the season as they won 43-35 in a thrilling clash at Loftus Versfeld.Jan Serfontein's last-minute try handed the Bulls a bonus point, before the conversion after the final hooter sent the Sharks back to Durban empty handed.

Players to watch: Look out for in-from Bulls full-back Jessie Kriel, who is pushing for a Springbok call up. With 802m gained,  he ranks first for metres gained in the competition this season. With the Bulls sure to stick to the tried-and-tested style of using the boot to gain field advantage – and the Sharks usually happy to reply in kind – there should be plenty of opportunities for him to shine on Saturday. In the absence of so many names, Cobus Reinach will play a vital role for the Sharks. The Bok scrum-half has the ability to turn the match on it's head with a moment of magic, but he must marshal his pack and keep the errors to a minimum or Handre Pollard will kick them out of the game.

Team news: The return of Springbok props Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis, for Dale Chadwick and Lourens Adriaanse respectively, are the only changes to the Sharks’ starting team. Adriaanse moves to the bench where he is joined by SP Marais, in for Jack Wilson. Chadwick drops out of the match-23 completely.

Rested Springboks Handré Pollard and Adriaan Strauss are back in the Bulls’ starting team. Jacques-Louis Potgieter drops out because of injury and Callie Visagie moves to the bench. The other changes to the starting line-up are at flank, lock and tighthead prop, where Jacques du Plessis (for Arno Botha), Flip van der Merwe (for Du Plessis) and Marcel van der Merwe (for Trevor Nyakane) will start. Botha, Nyakane and Lappies Labuschagne have been included on the bench while Hanro Liebenberg is not involved this week.

Form: The Sharks are coming off back-to-back defeats having been humiliated at home by the Crusaders before last week's 23-21 loss away to the Lions. The Bulls top the South African conference thanks to five wins from their last six games. They put the Reds to the sword last week, winning 43-22 in Pretoria.

Predictions: It's never easy to call derby games in South Africa but the Bulls will fancy their chances here. All those Boks missing from the Sharks team combined with a growing sense of confidence in the Bulls pack mean that we'll back the visitors. Bulls by less than seven points!

Previous results:

2015: Bulls won 43-35 in Pretoria
2014: Bulls won 23-19 in Pretoria
2014: Sharks won 31-16 in Durban
2013: Bulls won 20-19 in Pretoria
2013: Bulls won 18-16 in Durban

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 S'bura Sithole, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Mourtiz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis. 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Thomas du Toit , 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Etienne Oosthuizen, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Lionel Cronje, 23 SP Marais

Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Dean Greyling
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Morne Mellet, 18 Arno Botha, 19 Lappies Labuschagne, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Jurgen Visser, 23 Trevor Nyakane

Date: Saturday, April 18
Venue: Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT, 01:05 AEST, 03:05 NZST)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Archie Sehlako
TMO: Marius Jonker