These Sharks are no soft touch
These Sharks are no soft touchSHARE
The Bulls are not buying into the perception that the Sharks are floundering like the proverbial fish out of water.
Yes, they may be hovering in a lowly 10th place on the Super Rugby standings, with only a 50 percent success rate (six wins from 12 starts) and have a host of injuries, but they remain a quality outfit that can upstage even the best.
It is not surprising then that the Bulls approach their trip to Durban, for a Round 15 Super Rugby encounter with the Sharks on Saturday, with some considerable caution.
The Bulls, topping the South African conference and sitting pretty in second place on the global standings, have some unpleasant memories of their most recent visits to Kings Park.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke needed no reminding that their last three visits to the Shark Tank were accompanied by great misery for the tourists from Pretoria – a 3-20 loss in their Currie Cup encounter in October last year, a 10-32 defeat in their Super Rugby showdown in July 2012 and a 16-35 hiding in a Currie Cup fixture in July 2011.
"We've been in situations like that before," Ludeke said, when asked about the struggling Sharks' poor form and lengthy injury list.
"We approach this as we would when they're on top of their game," he told this website, adding: "Traditionally these are two teams that bring the best out of each other."
The Bulls mentor said he expects, as always, a very physical game in which the set pieces are vital.
The other key aspects will dominating the advantage line and collisions.
"These games [between the Sharks and Bulls] seldom produce a lot of tries, with very small margins.
"Yes, there are a few issues [at the Sharks] and they have some injuries, but often that brings the best out in a team – we are well aware we will have a tough time in Durban."
The Bulls' run-in to the play-offs is a tricky road full of pitfalls – the Sharks this week in Durban, the Cheetahs a week later in Bloemfontein, then the three-week June break, before they face the Kings in Pretoria, the Sharks in Pretoria and conclude their league fixtures when they visit Newlands to face Stormers in mid-July.
However, Ludeke said they won't be looking past this week.
"Those things [getting into a good place on the standings] happen when the processes work," he told this website.
"The key is to only focus on the next game and what is important to get you the result [a win].
"If you look at it in any other way, you shift the focus and can easily slip.
"In our last visits to Durban we were not good at all and we have a huge step to make up."
The Bulls mentor said one of the key areas they will focus on this week is getting quality first-phase possession.
"In our previous visits we were not accurate enough in our ball retention," he said, adding: "Tactically, when we play down there [in Durban] we always have to make a few adjustments.
"In some of our games we often ended up giving the possession to the opposition and that is what put us under pressure in Durban.
"That is also why quality first phase is vital – so you can get into the right areas, get your strengths into the game and get your rhythm going."
He said tactically they will need to made some big adjustments.
"When we play at Loftus we know exactly what to do and how to do it to get in the right areas, but at the coast we need to make adjustments to achieve the same results."
By Jan de Koning