The Sharks will take on the Bulls as they prepare for the season. Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
The burgeoning town of Ballito on KZN’s irresistible Dolphin Coast will host today’s appetising friendly between the Sharks and the Bulls, the first occasion that first-class rugby will be played north of the Sharks’ ancestral home of Kings Park. 

It is a sign of the times in KZN that today’s game reflects Durban’s suburban migration from the CBD to more bucolic surrounds. The venue is at a school, Ashton College, and ticket sales indicate that it will be packed out. And rightly so given that both the Bulls and the Sharks are fielding very close to their best possible line-ups ahead of their respective games next week against the Stormers (Pretoria) and Sunwolves (Singapore) respectively.

Both camps have mentioned the phrase “dress rehearsal”, and while both have extended benches for second-half trials, it is fair to mention that a positive result is important for both sides after the Sharks lost narrowly to the Lions at the Cape Town Stadium in last week’s Super Hero Sunday, and the Bulls were eclipsed by the Stormers.

Two losses in a row, albeit it in warm-up fixtures, is hardly ideal from a confidence point of view into next week’s Super Rugby kick-off.

It gives a nice edge to a hit-out that will have 22 Springboks on show, 13 for the Sharks and nine for the Bulls. Two of those Boks are on the bench for the Sharks in flyhalf Robert du Preez and centre Andre Esterhuizen, and the reason is that they are still a touch weary from their overseas commitments during the SA off season and should return to the starting line-up against the Sunwolves. 

Otherwise the Sharks will be at their strongest, with there being just two injuries on their books - flankers Jean-luc du Preez (two months away) and Philip van der Walt (three weeks). Today there will be choice match-ups all over the park. In the front row for instance, the Sharks’ all-Springbok trio of Coenie Oosthuizen, Akker van der Merwe and Beast Mtawarira will square up against the equally pedigreed Bulls combo of Trevor Nyakane, Schalk Brits and Lizo Gqoboka.

At flyhalf, Curwin Bosch has a great opportunity to show the Sharks’ coaching staff what he can in the position (in the absence of Robert du Preez), against Springbok incumbent Handre Pollard; and how about the two major rivals for the Springbok No 13 jersey, Lukhanyo Am and Jesse Kriel, squaring up?

* The match, which starts at 2pm. will not be televised.

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Hyron Andrews, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira Substitutes: 16 Juan Schoeman, 17 Fezo Mbatha, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Gideon Koegelenberg, 21 Wian Vosloo, 22 Luke Stringer, 23 Phepsi Buthelezi, 24 Cameron Wright, 25 Robert du Preez, 26 Lwazi Mvovo, 27 Andre Esterhuizen, 28 Jeremy Ward, 29 Leolin Zas, 30 Courtney Winnaar, 31 Kerron van Vuuren, 32 Grant Williams, 33 Rhyno Smith

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lood de Jager (captain), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Britz, 1 Lizo Gqoboka Substitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Matthys Basson, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Hanro Liebenberg, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Jannes Kirsten, 22 Tim Agaba, 23 Andre Warner, 24 JT Jackson, 25 Jade Stighling, 26 Divan Rossouw

Independent on Saturday

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