DURBAN - There was a time when teams coming to the Shark Tank knew that they would be in for a bruising encounter, and that the battle for physical dominance was not easily won.
That physical side of the Sharks seems to be coming back now with the likes of the Du Preez twins, Jean-Luc and Daniel, the flag bearers in the forwards.
Daniel, the burly No 8 Springbok who has a similar style of play to his robust brother, admits that the Sharks have been working on their physicality this season, trying to regain that edge to their game.
“If you win the physical battle, you are halfway there,” Du Preez said. “So it is something we work on, and it is something we pride ourselves on.
“The boys are starting to play well together, and the forwards are starting to get some momentum going, which is good.”
That hard work is not going unnoticed either. Aaron Mauger, the 46-cap All Black and current Highlanders coach, has had his run in with the traditional South African grunt before.
He admits that last weekend, when his team succumbed to the men in black and white, it was because of their dominance in that facet of play.
“I thought their physicality was much better than ours,” Mauger said after the 38-12 loss at the weekend.
“Both sides of the ball, and that created opportunities for them, and they took them really well when they created those, so well done to them, and a few lessons for us.”
There has been a great vibe in the @CellC Sharks camp following the victory against the Highlanders. Man of the match from last week's game, @Andre_301207, looks forward to the game ahead, which will be his 50th Vodacom @SuperRugby cap for #OurSharks. pic.twitter.com/cdDIucHpsp
Having a physical hold over your opponent is then clearly a big arrow in the Sharks’ quiver, having used that weapon on a few occasions this year already, especially against the New Zealand sides.
However, they have also lost out in this aspect of the game in other matches.
The Bulls showed, when they beat the Sharks 40-10 in Durban a few weeks back, that they too can mix it up with the rough and tough stuff, so the Sharks will have to be much more aware this time around.
Du Preez adds that the contest will not only be brutal, but emotional too, with both sides looking to get a mental win out of this game, for different reasons.
“It will be a huge battle,” Du Preez admitted. “It’s a South African derby, so never easy, and there will be a lot of emotion out there as the boys remember the game from a few weeks ago - and the Bulls will also be hurting from their loss to the Stormers.”
It was the Bulls’ backs that won them the game last time out, with Warrick Gelant nabbing a hat-trick in that game. But the backs only flourish when the forwards are in the pound seats.
The Bulls are able to call on the likes of former SA Player of the Year, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Thembelani Bholi and the emerging star that is Marco van Staden as their enforcers. They will come up against the Du Preez twins, Tendai Mtawarira and Thomas du Toit, and there is bound to be a lot of fireworks at Loftus from 5pm on Saturday.