SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW : Bulls vs Sharks

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The Sharks face an uncomfortably short turnaround as they travel to Loftus Versfeld for a Super Rugby showdown with the Bulls on Friday.

Having come out on top in an incredibly bruising clash against the Stormers last weekend, the task of facing a Bulls outfit fresh from a bye week is without doubt a tough one for the South African group leaders.

Indeed, the 2016 draw has been anything but favourable for the Sharks, who face a rough mid-season ride.

But so far, so good for Gary Gold’s men. As one of only two unbeaten teams left in the competition, it could hardly have gone better for the Durbanites, with back-to-back victories over two of the strongest teams in their group suggesting that they are a decent bet for a quarter-final berth.

It’s early days yet, but another win on the road will set them up very nicely.

Tactically, the Sharks have got it spot-on so far. Their performance against the Jaguares was far from perfect but they got the job done and managed to cut out a lot of those errors a week later in Cape Town, where their superior tactical kicking game played a major role in what could be crucial victory in the grand scheme of the season.

A trip to Loftus, where the Sharks have not won since 2011, represent a significant challenge however. The Bulls have won nine of their last 12 matches against the Sharks, including their last three, although at no point in that span has the winning margin been more than nine points.

It seems much will depend on how the hosts perform in the second half. The Bulls remain the only team in the competition yet to concede a first half try so far this season.

But they buckled badly after the break against the Stormers and leaked four answered tries against the Rebels having dominated the opening 40 minutes.

Bulls coach Nollis Marais said maintaining their intensity for all 80 minutes had been the focus of their bye-week training.

How that second half pans out is likely to depend largely on who wins the tactical kicking battle, which is always vital when playing at altitude. Veteran scrum-half Michael Claassens will make his first start of the season and his experience and strong kicking game alongside Joe Pietersen in their battle with Francois Brummer and Rudy Paige will be influential.

However, most important for the Bulls will be their ability to keep tabs on Marcell Coetzee, who has been in phenomenal form, and will spearhead the Sharks challenge at the breakdown.

Previous results:
2015: Bulls won 17-10 in Durban
2015: Bulls won 43-35 in Pretoria
2014: Bulls won 23-19 in Pretoria
2014: Sharks won 16-31 in Durban
2013: Bulls won 20-19 in Pretoria
2013: Bulls won 18-16 in Durban
2012: Sharks won 10-32 in Durban
2012: Bulls won 18-13 in Pretoria

The teams:

Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jesse Kriel

Sharks: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c)
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Garth April, 23 Odwa Ndungane

Date: Friday, March 18
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 19:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Stuart Berry, Rasta Rasivhenge
TMO: Willie Vos


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