JOHANNESBURG - Much has been made of the Sharks’ resurrection during their recent Super Rugby tour but little attention has been given to the fact that their style of rugby will play into the Bulls’ hands on Saturday.
The Sharks’ fresh appetite to play more with ball in hand and throw a few cheeky offloads has been at the forefront of their monumental drubbing of the Blues and near win against the Hurricanes.
Good as it may be, the Sharks have often left the back door open to opposition teams and while scoring tries at will, they have cheaply conceded as well.
And that is an area of the game that the Bulls will be looking at exploiting at the weekend including opening up the game, something the Pretoria side have mastered without the deserved results.
Bulls coach John Mitchell has been extremely complimentary about the Sharks exploits recently but feels that his team stand a good chance of hitting the Durbanites at their weakest points.
“You look at them they are confident in attack and they will look to maintain that approach. They look to win gain line and they look to offload and keep the ball alive,” Mitchell said at his team announcement press conference on Thursday.
"We see that as an area they will look to continue on and they score a lot of points so that gives an indication of what they will bring. I think this game will come down to field position, gain line and whoever takes the opportunities.
"They have also conceded a lot as well so that is an opportunity for us and we’ve looked at that closely on how we can exploit that but ultimately it comes down to game day. We are going to have to make it happen to exploit those opportunities."
Even though considered the underdogs going into the derby, the Bulls have strengthened their side with the inclusion of in-form Springbok lock Lood de Jager and second row partner RG Snyman, who both have recovered from injuries and Mitchell believes that part of the war will be won amongst the battle of the forwards of which De Jager and Snyman are a crucial component.
“It is always difficult coming back from a break because it takes longer to get into the rugby mindset. The guys realised this week that we are back in it and bodies have responded well to it,” said Mitchell.
"I have backed the experience of the two locks but they are aware that the three younger locks, while they might not have brought the accuracy at the line-outs against the Stormers, have brought huge physicality.
"So there is good competition growing in that area. I have trust in the two experienced locks, Lood has played Test rugby and RG has the potential of playing Test rugby consistently as well.
"They are excited, one of them can go the distance based on his physical profile and Jason (Jenkins) is in good shape and jumping above the standards so we have a really good third lock to bring on."
While the Sharks have looked to re-invent the wheel and themselves in the process, the Bulls will look to keep things the same from their win against the Stormers two weeks ago and in winning the war of attrition which includes outplaying and out-thinking the Sharks with ball in hand.
“They are coming back from a good tour and we are coming off a bye and we don’t want to lose the momentum because of the time off. They are going to come hard at us especially playing at home in Durban. They’ve had some close encounters which didn’t go in their favour,” said Bulls captain Burger Odendal.
"I think it will be a physical game and their forwards will want to dominate the gain line and we must sort out our defence to ensure that they don’t get any front foot momentum. Our plans remain the same and the humidity could be a factor but it is the only thing that could influence how we play."