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Preview: Bulls v Sharks

05th July 2013 09:41

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Bulls v Sharks

Battle of the fly-halves

Given the calamitous manner with which the Sharks season has unfolded, it's hard to believe that they still have a shot at making the Super Rugby play-offs, yet if results go their way, a win against the Bulls may keep them in the hunt.

It seemed that a match-winning penalty from Morne Steyn when the two sides met in Durban in late May had sealed the Sharks' fate, but a win over the Blues and a few stutters from the teams ahead of them has breathed the smallest sliver of life into the Durban outfit's season.

However, should the Cheetahs beat the Blues in the match preceding the clash in Pretoria, it will be the Bulls who are the only ones with something to lose as they look to secure a potential home final, with the South African Conference already in the bag.

If the Sharks are to have any hope of beating the Bulls at Loftus they will need to dominate up front, something they did successfully against the Blues, but the Bulls will be a different prospect altogether. The return of Bismarck du Plessis to the fray will no doubt boost the team (although Kyle Cooper has done a sterling job in his absence) and the prospect of the all-Springbok front row of the Du Plessis brothers and Tendai Mtawarira going up against another Springbok front row in Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Dean Greyling is a tantalising one.

It's said almost every time the Bulls play - and not without good reason - but Saturday's match could once again be won and lost with the battle of the boot, with Steyn's deadly kicking more than capable of adding another nail, this time the final one, into the Sharks coffin.

When the two teams met in Durban, both conceded nine penalties, but while Pat Lambie landed three of the five penalties that came his way, Steyn secured six out of seven, and in a game that was won 18-16, those misses from the Sharks fly-half proved the difference.

Lambie endured a poor day with the boot against the Blues, missing four penalty attempts and one conversion as he pocketed just seven out of a possible 21 points. Playing in his 50th Super Rugby match on Saturday, the youngster will be determined to not only get both himself and his team firmly back on track but also prove that he deserves to once again be the man in possession of the Springbok number 10 jersey.

The Sharks will need to score four tries and their determination to do so could see them cross the line - in more ways than one. Too eager at the breakdown or rushing up in defence and referee Jason Jaftha could have a busy day, spelling danger for Keegan Daniel's men.

The Bulls will no doubt play their standard hard up front rugby and have Steyn pulling the strings from the pocket. But with new-found penetration in the midfield in the form of Jan Serfontein, the Bulls are a dangerous outfit in any circumstances.

Prediction: The Sharks will be desperate to keep in the running for the play-offs, but the Bulls are not a team that often let their foot off the pedal. Bulls by five.

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Jurgen Visser, 22 Morné Mellett.

Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Butch James, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Jaco van Tonder.

Date: Saturday, July 6
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19.10 (17.10 GMT)
Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)

Put your money where your mouth is and make your predictions here!

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