The Sharks and Bulls will be looking for some big performances from their key players in today's derby. Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix
The ensuing war of duels in the Bulls and Sharks derby at Loftus Versfeld today will go a long way in determining the ultimate victors of this derby, but it will also serve as a dress rehearsal for Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus’ final squad selection ahead of the June Incoming series against England.

Take nothing away from the importance of the derby in the Super Rugby context as both teams are in a dog fight for play-off berths, but one can’t shake off the feeling there will be a higher cause in today’s battles.

Round one may have unanimously gone to the Bulls in their 40-10 drubbing of the Sharks in Durban but the second round won’t be a given to John Mitchell’s men as they face a Sharks team with plenty of fire in the belly and possessing a barrage of knockout blows  as was evident in their 38-12 dismantling of the Highlanders last weekend.

It will certainly start upfront in the battle of the set-piece with the Bulls eager to redeem themselves from the shambolic scrum performance against the Stormers while their tried and tested second row combination of Lood de Jager and RG Snyman will again need to stand tall.

Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am (pictured) are sure to shine for their respective teams. Photo: BackpagePix

Ultimately, the points will come from the backs with Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard the architect-in-chief for the men in blue while Robert du Preez looks to affirm himself as a real contender amongst the country’s pivots.

But it comes down to how outside centres Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am shape up, first with their ability to carry and put their outside backs away and how good they will be in stemming the unrelenting tides of attack from the opposition.

It will be difficult to ignore the obvious about Kriel and Am as the two standout outside centres fighting for the right to wear that number 13 Springbok jersey in June.

Rugby writer Vata Ngobeni looks at how the duels match up in today’s derby at Loftus Versfeld:

Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka versus Thomas du Toit, Akker van der Merwe, Tendai Mtawarira

It is a matter of fact that the one who fires the first salvo in the scrum will gain a commanding ascendency in the game.

After a poor showing against the Stormers, the Bulls have the lean and evergreen scrumming prowess of Trevor Nyakane back at tighthead prop and it will make for an interesting battle against the experience and might of the in-form Bok veteran Tendai Mtawarira.

Bulls loosehead Lizo Gqoboka has enhanced his reputation as a scrummager in recent weeks and he will look to confirm himself as one of the best against the ever-improving man mountain Thomas du Toit.

Marco van Staden, Jason Jenkins, Roelof Smit versus Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Jacques Vermeulen

The battle of brains and brawn amongst the loosies will go a long way in handing victory to the respective teams.

The Bulls will fancy themselves as not only the wisest but also as the quickest with two fetchers in Marco van Staden and Roelof Smit while Jason Jenkins will be relied on to bring the aggression.

But will that be enough to withstand the brute physicality that twins Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez bring to the party? Add to that the unrelenting spirit of Jacques Vermeulen, who himself is never shy of confrontation and possesses deceptive speed in getting to the breakdown.

Jesse Kriel versus Lukhanyo Am

Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am thrive on the big stage and are the Rolls-Royces of their respective battle-ready fleets.

Both have played with aplomb this year, getting off the mark impressively and have been catalysts in the heroics of their outside backs.

Kriel may enjoy an advantage in terms of experience but it is Am who has maintained consistency in form with and without ball in hand.

As dangerous as they both are in finding space for themselves and teammates, it is Am’s steely defence that could tilt this duel, derby and ultimately the fight for the Bok jersey in his favour.

Jesse Kriel is set to set the pitch alight for the Bulls. Photo: .BackpagePix

Bulls: Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal (captain), Johnny Kotze, Handre Pollard, Ivan van Zyl, Marco van Staden, Jason Jenkins, Roelof Smit, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka. Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Frans van Wyk/Nqoba Mxoli, Conraad van Vuuren, Thembelani Bholi, Nic de Jager, Andre Warner, Manie Libbok, Divan Rossouw

Sharks: Curwin Bosch, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Robert du Preez, Cameron Wright, Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Jacques Vermeulen, Ruan Botha (captain), Tyler Paul, Thomas du Toit, Akker van der Merwe, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Juan Schoeman, Ross Geldenhuys, Stephan Lewies, Wian Vosloo, Louis Schreuder, Marius Louw, Lwazi Mvovo

Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge

Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, Archie Sehlako

TMO: Marius Jonker

Venue: Loftus Versfeld

Kick-off: 5.15pm

TV: SS1


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