DURBAN - If you were a betting person, the bottom line is that a correctly-focused, in-form, well-drilled Sharks team playing at home should beat the Bulls in Saturday's Currie Cup semi-final (2.30pm).
The Sharks are firm favourites given that they are a settled team that knows its game plan inside-out (they won ten matches in a row to be runaway No 1 finishers on the log), are loaded with talent, and have home ground advantage.
The Bulls scraped into the semi-finals only after a dramatic final round of the competition last week; they have had the turmoil of a coach being sacked midway through the competition, and are away from Loftus Versfeld.
They come to Durban having lost their home and away fixtures against the Sharks and they are clearly a team in transition under new coach John Mitchell.
While they have been getting it right on attack, they have also been leaking an uncomfortable number of points (32 against the Pumas in Pretoria last week). This frailty on defence underlines that they are a work in process.
It all adds up to little pressure on the Bulls. Mentally, they are in an ideal place because they are not expected to win, but internally they will be gearing up to achieve a famous upset.
They will be banging the underdog drum. It makes the Bulls highly dangerous because they have nothing to lose and can throw the kitchen sink at the Sharks.
The Sharks, meanwhile, will be feeling the heat. They have not made the Currie Cup semi-finals since 2014. That is not good enough. Defeat in the semi-finals will be construed as a failed campaign considering how much is in the Sharks’ favour.
In some ways, there is more pressure on the Sharks to win this semi-final than there would be to win the final, should they get there. There will be a huge relief in the corridors of the Shark Tank should the home team get over this tricky hurdle to safely take their place in a home final.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez has made three changes to his starting line-up for the match. Flank Jean-Luc du Preez takes over from Jacques Vermeulen, who passed a fitness test on a rib problem to take his place on the bench; scrumhalf Louis Schreuder is preferred to veteran Michael Claassens (also on the bench); and stalwart Odwa Ndungane switches to the bench to accommodate fit-again wing Kobus van Wyk.
On the bench, hooker Akker van der Merwe is preferred to Chiliboy Ralepelle, who drops out of the squad.
If Du Preez and captain Ruan Botha were nervous at Thursday's press conference, they were hiding it well.
“No nerves,” smiled Botha, who is hoping a week that started on a great note (his son Jordan was born on Monday) ends with a victory.
Du Preez, a wily old campaigner, knows that the homework has been done.
“The stuff we have done this season has worked for us, and we have enough experience and leadership in the team to tweak things in the game if we need to,” he said.
“We have back-up plans, but we believe in what we have done so far.”
A lot has been said about the way the free-wheeling Bulls have been playing and the Sharks have taken note.
“We are going to have to stop them,” Du Preez said. “Our defence has been good all season and this week we have also done a lot of work on how we are going to stop their attackers.
“The Bulls won’t deviate from what has worked for them recently. For us it comes down to game management (mostly by Curwin Bosch), which has been very good.
“Territory will always be important (in a play-off) but we believe we have the pack to get us the dominance we need to make our game management easier.”