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Preview: Bulls v Sharks

21st March 2014 08:35

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Victor Matfield Bulls Super Rugby v Sharks 2014

Stand-in skipper: Victor Matfield

In a very rare occurrence, neither the Bulls nor the Sharks will have a Ndungane brother in their setup when the two teams battle it out in Pretoria on Saturday.

Both former Springboks are sill away on family leave following the recent death of a man who could very well have been the proudest father in South African history.

And when considering who the replacements are in the absence of the twins, it becomes clearer why the Sharks have yet to lose a game this season.

Jake White will again have two internationals on the wing, while the Bulls have their hopes pinned on former Springbok Sevens speedster Sampie Mastriet who is on debut.

In Pretoria, poor decision making by those responsible for player recruitment has left the Bulls in a position where they no longer have the biggest stockpile of match winners to bank on when one gets injured.

This week the introduction of a somewhat temperamental Paul Willemse at lock in the place of the injured Flip van der Merwe highlights just how fragile the three-time champions actually are. Van der Merwe's hamstring injury is indeed a devastating setback.

On a more positive note, Bulls fly-half Jacques-Louis Potgieter is one of their form players at the moment and when considering the supposed simplicity of their game plan, it has become evident that without the services of a confident pivot, their kick-and-charge tactics become as ineffective as their recent contracting policy has been.

When these sides last met Louis Fouché was their general and it was later discovered that he may have been slightly out of his comfort zone at this level.

However, the Bulls still consider themselves unfortunate to have lost their opener in Durban and will be desperate to set the record straight against a side that has, again, shown great early season form.

From a Sharks perspective a loss at this juncture could be of greater value to their long-term ambitions than another win would be.

The process of identifying flaws becomes that much easier when the scoreboard favours the opposing side and, as things currently stand, the Sharks have hardly been forced to take a reflective look in the mirror. Not that they will ever plan to lose.

Ironically, White's last visit to the Bulls fortress was with a Brumbies outfit that had far less fire-power than the Durban-based squad he coaches today.

On that occasion tactical nous sunk a Bulls battleship that looked primed to compete in a Super Rugby final - so it would not be a surprise if Saturday's hit-out is again determined by the smarter of the two sides... who coincidentally have some of the biggest ball carriers in their ranks.

One of the most significant differences between the sides is that the Sharks do not have an on-field tactician in Victor Matfield's mould.

The Springbok lock's return from retirement went full-circle when he took over as captain from the injured Van der Merwe and to further boost his team's chances, he will have one of his lieutenants at his side.

Although impossible to judge in what form returning flanker Dewald Potgieter is in, his presence in one of the most inexperienced Bulls outfits in years should prompt further improvement, as he is one of those players who feels aggrieved if he does not bleed profusely at least once during a match.

Potgieter's urge to give his all will be welcomed by a Sharks loose-trio consisting of Marcel Coetzee, Willem Alberts and a rejuvenated Ryan Kankowski.

The Sharks loosies have been outstanding thus far and when considering the simple fact that turnovers win matches, learning a valuable lesson from a loss may very well be postponed to a later stage.

Prediction: This could become an ugly one to watch. The Bulls should win at home, even if it is by a very small margin. Bulls by three.

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 Ulrich Beyers, 23 Morné Mellet.

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Andre Esterhuizen.

Date: Saturday, March 22
Venue: Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19.10 local (17.10 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommenstein (South Africa)

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