Johannesburg - Although it is true that every match is important and counts in the end, it would not be too far off the mark to suggest that Saturday’s clashes in Joburg and Durban are of paramount importance for the Bulls and the Sharks.
And the big question is, how will South Africa’s two leading Super Rugby sides respond after what can only be described as a trying week?
Both won last weekend, but both must have had a challenging training week with so many players at the Springbok training camp. For many players the not-so-small matter of a place with the Boks for the June Tests will have been uppermost in their minds.
It means that both sides will face big mental tests today as the Bulls take on the Lions, and the Sharks play the Stormers.
Complicating matters further is the fact that the competition comes to a halt after Saturday – for the June Test window – and resumes only in the first week of July. How will that affect the players?
The Bulls will tackle their Gauteng neighbours at Ellis Park knowing that nothing less than a victory will be good enough. It is so congested in the top part of the points table that Frans Ludeke’s men simply cannot afford any slip-ups from here on in.
The good news is that they have momentum behind them and know what is at stake, and they have not lost to the Lions, home or away, in their past 10 meetings.
The bad news is that Ludeke has left key forward and lineout kingpin Victor Matfield out of his team, and we all know what happened in the early part of the competition when Matfield was still easing his way back into the game – the Bulls battled.
On Saturday they will have to put the veteran’s absence behind them and show they can still deliver the goods. They are certainly capable of doing so, with plenty of class in all positions.
Johan Ackermann’s Lions may be coming off a disappointing overseas tour but will back themselves to beat anyone at Ellis Park.
The Lions are no pushovers and, with the best scrumming unit in the competition, could make life extremely tough for the men from Pretoria.
In what should be ideal conditions, expect a high-tempo game with both teams chasing the four tries. The Bulls, especially, will want to bag as many points as possible.
Independent on Saturday