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Preview: Sharks v Blue Bulls

Thu, 18 Oct 2012 21:08
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Jan de Koning takes a look at the Kings Park showdown
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Durban has a habit of pitching the proverbial curve-ball when it comes to play-off time.

There has been the monsoon semifinal and the attack of the bees. But more importantly, there are the numerous upsets in this coastal city.

As far back as 1984, Natal - then still a B-Section union - upstaged the Free State 26-15. However, in previous head-to-head encounters with the Bulls in semifinals in Durban the Sharks are behind - the Bulls having won in 1970 and 2002 at Kings Park.

Now add in the notorious Durban weather and you have a real lottery.

But that is the excitement of play-offs.

No matter how much we think we can predict an outcome, there is never a guarantee.

What can be said, for certain, is that it will be a bruising encounter of near Test-match intensity.

Sharks coach John Plumtree has made some surprising selections - with frontline Springboks like Tendai Mtawarira, Craig Burden and Willem Alberts on the bench.

However, the selection of Patrick Lambie at flyhalf holds the key, as he will be required to make the crucial calls in those testing conditions.

Bulls coach Pine Pienaar has retained the same matchday 22 that beat the Lions last week, with Bok utility Francois Hougaard (again on the bench) probably the only non-selection that will raise some eyebrows.

Pienaar made no secret of the fact that discipline in play-offs is vital.

"In terms of discipline, we conceded 15 penalties [against the Lions last week]," he told this website, adding: "It means not only do you concede possession, but you lose your momentum and territorial advantage.

"In a semifinal discipline is always vital.

"You also have to ensure you play in the right areas against the Sharks. They are deadly from turnover ball, so we will have to look after our own possession."

The Bulls also feel they need to be up for a real scrap and be "accurate" at the breakdown.

-"Plum [Sharks coach John Plumtree] and his team always puts pressure on you in that aspect, so we will have to ensure we look after our own possession.

"They are a team that thrives on turnover ball and broken-field play."

The Sharks will be banking heavily on the impressive home record they have build up in the last year.

"We've lost only once at home this year and only once in the last three years in the Currie Cup, so the home record is something the guys really pride themselves on and it's something they really want, to play for the fans," Sharks assistant coach Hugh Reece-Edwards said.

"Obviously we're hoping to have a big crowd coming out in support this week. Playing at home is always special, it's tough playing away. The last away game against Free State was important, we'd lost to the Bulls previously at Loftus and in this game, the guys had to dig really deep. Once again, it showed the character in this team, that they put their hands up. With more character being shown week in and week out, that's what you want.

"And more character needs to be shown this week because we have Boks returning and some guys are going to miss out. But that's just the way it is – a team is made up of a collection of people, not just 15 guys – and now we have over 30 guys. Everyone is together, everyone is playing for the same goal and it's a really positive situation."

Players to watch:

For the Sharks: It all starts up front, given that the conditions will not favour an expansive game. That means those burly ball-carriers like Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee and Anton Bresler hold the key. Skilful players like captain Keegan Daniel and, when he comes on, Craig Burden will still have a role to play if the game opens up. You can also expect young Cobus Reinach to try a few things, but the most important back will be flyhalf Pat Lambie.

For the Blue Bulls: Expect plenty of high bombs in the wet conditions, so Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane and most of all Bjorn Basson will be vital to ensure the Bulls regain possession from those kicks. Flyhalf Morné Steyn will also have a key role to play, while forwards like Arno Botha, Jacques Potgieter and Dewald Potgieter will need to function as a unit rather than individuals.

Head to head: Look no further than flyhalf. Many pundits feel Patrick Lambie (Sharks) deserves an extended run in the No.10 jersey and he gets the ideal opportunity to prove to Bok coach Heyneke Meyer that he is more than just a fullback when he fronts up to Morné Steyn (Blue Bulls) in what could be a decisive duel. In a sense it is a Springbok trial - Louis Ludik (Sharks) against Zane Kirchner (Blue Bulls), Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks) against Bjorn Basson (Blue Bulls), Cobus Reinach (Sharks) against Jano Vermaak), Keegan Daniel (Shark) against Arno Botha (Blue Bulls), Jean Deysel (Sharks) against Jacques Potgieter (Blue Bulls), Marcell Coetzee (Sharks) against Dewald Potgieter (Blue Bulls).

Recent Currie Cup results:
2012: Blue Bulls 42-31 Sharks
2012: Sharks 13-12 Blue Bulls
2011: Blue Bulls 27-39 Sharks
2011: Sharks 35-16 Blue Bulls
2010: Sharks 16-12 Blue Bulls
2010: Blue Bulls 40-34 Sharks

Sharks v Blue Bulls in semifinals:
1970: Natal 24-8 Northern Transvaal
2002: Natal 19-22 Blue Bulls
2010: Sharks 16-12 Blue Bulls

Road to the play-offs:

Sharks:
Round One: Western Province 23-25 Sharks
Round Two: Sharks 30-14 Golden Lions
Round Three: Blue Bulls 42-31 Sharks
Round Four: Sharks 34-32 Free State Cheetahs
Round Five: Griquas 22-15 Sharks
Round Six: Sharks 43-27 Western Province
Round Seven: Golden Lions 28-22 Sharks
Round Eight: Sharks 13-12 Blue Bulls
Round Nine: Free State Cheetahs 30-37 Sharks
Round 10: Sharks 42-3 Griquas

Blue Bulls:
Round One: Blue Bulls 35-20 Griquas
Round Two: Free State Cheetahs 32-18 Blue Bulls
Round Three: Blue Bulls 42-31 Sharks
Round Four: Western Province 42-6 Blue Bulls
Round Five: Blue Bulls 23-32 Golden Lions
Round Six: Griquas 49-34 Blue Bulls
Round Seven: Blue Bulls 34-30 Free State Cheetahs
Round Eight: Sharks 13-12 Blue Bulls
Round Nine: Blue Bulls 26-13 Western Province
Round 10: Golden Lions 29-50 Blue Bulls

Prediction: There is very little to choose between these two quality sides and the weather will make it even more of a lottery. The Sharks will start favourites, but the Blue Bulls could sneak a win - by five points or even less.

Teams:

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandré Marais, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Steven Sykes/Peet Marais, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Meyer Bosman.

Blue Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Dean Greyling.

Date: Saturday, October 20
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 16.30 (14.30 GMT)
Expected weather: It will rain on Saturday. The questions is just how much of it will fall during the game and how heavy it will be. At this stage the prediction is for light to moderate rain, with the temperature around the 17°C to 18°C mark
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha, Christie du Preez
TMO: Shaun Veldsman

By Jan de Koning

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