Johannesburg - Who will be quickest out of the blocks when Super Rugby returns to Cape Town and Bloemfontein on Saturday? That’s the big question after a month-long break for the June Tests.
And with just two more rounds to go before the league phase is wrapped up, there’s no room for error or sluggishness from the Bulls and, more specially, the Sharks.
Jake White’s men have it all to do as they go in search of two wins in the next two weeks to finish top of the standings – and thus guarantee themselves a home final, if they go so far.
But even then, they will be reliant on what the table-topping Waratahs do in their remaining games.
But, as any coach will tell you, a team can only focus on what they need to do and forget about the rest.
And, first up for White and Co are the Cheetahs, who have been out of the running since the first month of Super Rugby but are always tough to beat.
Added to that, the Cheetahs are on home soil and they can push eight Springboks on to the field, with several new national players out to show they belong at the very top of the game in South Africa.
There’s no pressure on Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske’s men, so expect them to play with freedom and flair.
They’ll test a Sharks side in all departments, a side that lost last time out – against the Stormers at home at the end of May.
White’s gambled somewhat by omitting the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, as well as Willem Alberts from his starting team, so expect a big scrum onslaught by the home team.
Boks Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss and Trevor Nyakane will want to lay the platform for their backs, where the likes of Johan Goosen, Johan Sadie, Cornal Hendricks and Willie le Roux will be keen to entertain.
The Sharks back division may have Francois Steyn back in midfield and JP Pietersen, S’bura Sithole and Lwazi Mvovo out wide, but everything will depend on how young Tim Swiel performs at flyhalf.
It’s a big test for him and an under-pressure Sharks outfit, one that could very well determine whether the Sharks remain on course for a first title or simply make up the numbers in the knockout games.
Now, if the Sharks have their fate in their own hands, the Bulls will definitely rely on several teams doing them a favour if they’re to sneak into the play-offs in a fortnight.
Frans Ludeke’s men are 10th in the standings and seven points off sixth place and a spot in the “quarter-finals”, and, while a haul of 10 points in their remaining games will get them to 43 points, the teams above them have the advantage.
But again, the Bulls’ focus will only be on what they need to do to give themselves a chance.
Like the Sharks, Ludeke’s men lost in their last match before the break – against the Lions – and will face a stiff challenge in Cape Town.
The Bulls were slow out of the blocks at the start of the season and they may find the going tough again after a four-week break.
Several players, though, have been in good form for the Boks, so there will be a level of confidence in the squad. But the Stormers will be desperate to end a miserable season on a high.
The first 15 minutes will be crucial for the play-off-chasing Sharks and Bulls on Saturday, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer will be on tenterhooks for the full 80 minutes. Meyer has already lost several key men to injury for the forthcoming Rugby Championship and won’t want to see any more key men struck down this evening.