The Sharks looking for retribution against the Bulls
CAPE TOWN - Revenge will be in the air when the Sharks run out at Loftus Versfeld for tonight’s Super Rugby Unlocked contest against the Bulls (7pm kick-off).
The Durban outfit were played off the park by a rampant Bulls side in a warm-up match a few weeks ago, but having been the top side during the cancelled Super Rugby earlier this year, coach Sean Everitt and his team would want to stamp their authority on their fierce rivals when log points are up for grabs.
There’s been a revolution in Pretoria following the arrival of new boss Jake White, who has asked his team to find some “rhythm” on attack and defence after a couple of error-strewn displays against Griquas and the Cheetahs.
Here are three flashpoints that could decide tonight’s encounter at Loftus
Sikhumbuzo Notshe bids for Duane Vermeulen’s throne
There was no doubt that Sikhumbuzo Notshe was the best South African No 8 in pre-Covid Super Rugby this year - although he came off second-best against Stormers juggernaut Juarno Augustus.
Notshe added real physicality to his renowned speed as he made a big impact on defence and was more confrontational with his ball-carries.
But is he ready to lay claim to Duane Vermeulen’s Springbok throne? The World Cup winner is back at Loftus Versfeld, and will look to spark the Bulls pack in the line-outs and mauls - and of course, on defence.
Vermeulen has made it clear that he wants to play against the British and Irish Lions next year, and in the 2023 World Cup. He said some nice things about his former Stormers teammate Notshe: “He was one of their star players in the Super Rugby before lockdown, so I know what he’s got and what he can give as a player."
But asked if he will put his 27-year-old rival in his place, Vermeulen replied: “Time will tell!”
Can Kurt-Lee Arendse handle the heat from Sbu Nkosi?
Blitzbok star Kurt-Lee Arendse proved that he has the pace to be a serious factor in the 15-man game when he skinned Manie Libbok and stepped inside Curwin Bosch for a sensational long-range try in the SuperFan Saturday clash, before scoring a second as well.
But an unfortunate situation saw him miss his flight to Cape Town for the Springbok Showdown, and a subsequent blow to his leg kept Arendse out of the two Super Rugby Unlocked games as well.
Now the former UWC speedster is back, and will want to produce the same level of performance against a Springbok in Sbu Nkosi.
But the World Cup-winning wing is also returning from a sternum injury that saw him sidelined for the SuperFan match and the win over the Lions, so he would be eager to make an impression and keep Arendse busy in defence and shut him down on attack.
Battle of the boot: Morné Steyn v Curwin Bosch
Many fans will be hoping for an attacking spectacle, but it would be a surprise if this game turns out like the recent warm-up match, as there are log points up for grabs.
Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen said he expects the Sharks to “kick the ball out of their half to play the rugby in your half - and that’s where they put you under pressure, create turnovers and play on the front foot in the right areas of the field”.
And considering Jake White’s selection this week, the Bulls might fight fire with fire. New full-back David Kriel and scrum-half Ivan van Zyl have big boots, but of course, the ‘don’ of kicking in South Africa is Morné Steyn.
The veteran flyhalf probably would have slotted the late conversion against the Cheetahs last week that would have levelled the scores, but he was replaced by Chris Smith, who pulled the attempt to the left.
So, don’t expect White to make the same mistake tonight, as the Bulls are up against another sharp-shooter in Curwin Bosch.
It’s not only the goal-kicking battle that will have a major bearing on the game, as both No 10s will look to put their team on the front foot with their tactical kicking.
Teams For Loftus Versfeld
Bulls: 15 David Kriel 14 Travis Ismaiel 13 Stedman Gans 12 Cornal Hendricks 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse 10 Morné Steyn 9 Ivan van Zyl 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain) 7 Elrigh Louw 6 Marco van Staden 5 Ruan Nortje 4 Jason Jenkins 3 Marcel van der Merwe 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Bench: 16 Joe van Zyl 17 Gerhard Steenekamp 18 Trevor Nyakane 19 Sintu Manjezi 20 Arno Botha 21 Embrose Papier 22 Chris Smith 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren.
Sharks: 15 Manie Libbok 14 Sbu Nkosi 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain) 12 Marius Louw 11 Werner Kok 10 Curwin Bosch 9 Sanele Nohamba 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe 7 Phendulani Buthelezi 6 James Venter 5 Hyron Andrews 4 Ruben van Heerden 3 Thomas du Toit 2 Dylan Richardson 1 Ox Nche.
Bench: 16 Kerron van Vuuren 17 Mzamo Majola 18 John-Hubert Meyer 19 JJ van der Mescht 20 Henco Venter 21 Grant Williams 22 Jeremy Ward 23 Yaw Penxe.
Referee: Jaco Peyper. Kick-off: 7pm.