3 factors that could influence Bulls v Sharks
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Bulls v Sharks is THE grudge match in South African rugby at the moment.
Not only did they fight for 100 minutes to decide the Currie Cup final, it was also a contrast of styles and philosophies.
Last season, the Sharks kicked the living daylights out of the rugby ball and the Bulls scored some sparkling tries on Jake White’s watch.
But Sharks coach Sean Everitt has given his backline sprinters licence to thrill recently, and it has paid off. They have nine tries and 10 log points from two victories.
The Bulls’ two wins have been rather workmanlike efforts against the Lions and Stormers, so which team will finally ‘click’ at Loftus Versfeld (6.15pm kick-off) this evening?
Here are the factors that could decide the result…
Revenge can be sweet
Following the Bulls’ 20-16 success against the Stormers, they posted photos after the match in a tweet, with the words: “Still domestic rugby’s greatest rivalry.”
Sharks chief executive Eduard Coetzee was not impressed, and replied: “Ok @TheSharksZA,” with a thumbs-up emoji…
You can be sure that Lukhanyo Am and his team will be up for this one, having lost three out of four against the Bulls last season.
Springbok flyhalf shoot-out
Morné Steyn will be 37 by the time the Springboks line up for the first Test against the British and Irish Lions, but his form for the Bulls has resulted in him being part of recent Bok alignment camps.
And he has earned that spot through his performances. It’s clear that Steyn is playing without the pressure of wanting to prove a point, as he’s got 66 Test caps to his name and a number of Bok and franchise-level records.
On the other side, Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch is the youngster pushing for a Bok recall. The man from Gqeberha has all the skills to become a Test star, but there are still question marks about his defence.
He also missed a number of goal kicks in the Currie Cup final. The only way he can convince the Bok coaches is by being a commanding presence against Steyn and the Bulls.
Bossing the breakdown
Bulls openside flank Marco van Staden made an astonishing 22 tackles against the Stormers, but despite that statistic, the Pretoria side were heavily penalised at the breakdown.
White said it was 19 penalties to eight, and apart from the scrum issues, their ruck work wasn’t the best either.
Van Staden will want to get his hands on the ball more often and slow down the Sharks’ attacking impetus, but perhaps the key figure in this regard will be captain Duane Vermeulen.
The No 8 played his first game of the season and was understandably not at his sharpest yet. But he will raise his game against Bok teammates such as Siya Kolisi and Lukhanyo Am.
With no Dylan Richardson and James Venter, the Sharks lack a fetcher loose forward, with Am the man who gets stuck in. That’s something the Bulls could exploit …