Durban – New director of rugby Jake White believes his Sharks team must beat the Bulls at Kings Park in Durban if they want to be considered challengers for the Super Rugby title when they kick-off the competition on Saturday.
The two teams meet in one of two matches on the opening weekend of the tournament, with the coastal franchise widely considered as South Africa's brightest prospects for 2014.
Their large contingent of Springboks and the appointment of the 2007 World Cup-winning coach at the end of last year are the reasons behind their 'favourites' tag and White is expecting nothing less than victory.
“Let's take nothing away from the Bulls, they've won the competition three times and that's more than any other South African side,” he said ahead of the game.
“The challenge we sit with is if we're not good enough to beat the Bulls at home in this round, the chances are we will struggle against the likes of the Blues and Crusaders in Auckland and Christchurch.
“That's what it takes to win this competition. You have to beat teams like that and the Bulls at home.”
The Sharks have an 8-11 win-loss record against the Pretoria side with one draw from their last 20 meetings dating back to 1998.
The tables have turned this season, though, mainly due to the mass exodus of experienced players from Loftus Versfeld over the past 12 months.
White is nonetheless wary of the threat they pose, especially in the opening game of the season.
“They aren't going to come here and hand over what we want,” he said.
“It's a derby game, the first game of the tournament for both sides and there is no doubt there will be first game jitters and some nerves.
“There's also a lot of media hype about the fact that we have this talented squad and I think it's going to be a very interesting game Ä an eye-opener for South African rugby.”
The Sharks on Thursday named 11 national players in their starting XV, including their regular all-Bok front row.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have a much less experienced tea, even though there are close to 10 Springboks in their side, with Victor Matfield, who recently came out of retirement, on the bench.
Their coach, Frans Ludeke, was confident in his selection, saying he expected a real battle in Durban.
“This is going to be a typical South African derby with a lot of focus on the breakdown and to dominate the advantage line.
“We respect the Sharks, but if we are accurate and play our rugby in the right areas of the field, we should get some reward for that.
“Our focus will be to execute and to make sure that we protect our ball, as the Sharks will be keen to counter whenever we turn over possession.” – Sapa