- Sharks v Bulls
- Saturday 1 February, 6.10am NZT at Kings Park, Durban.
- Played: 32
- Won: Bulls 20, Sharks 9, Drawn 3
- Last match: Sharks 16, Bulls 19 (30 March 2019)
The Bulls are undefeated in their last nine Investec Super Rugby games against the Sharks, a 16-16 draw in March 2016 being their only blemish in that run.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt has named new signings Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Ox Nche and James Venter in the starting line-up ahead of Friday’s Super Rugby opener against the Bulls.
The men from Durban finished in the quarterfinals of the southern hemisphere’s premier franchise competition, and begin the 2020 campaign at home.
First Sharks starts for trio
They go into it with three players making their first appearance in a Sharksk jumper, including Springbok loose forward Notshe, who starts in the number 8 jersey, having moved from the Stormers in the offseason.
Bolstering the front row is former Cheetahs prop Nche, who packs up alongside Kerron van Vuuren and World Cup-winning Bok prop Thomas du Toit, while Venter makes his first senior appearance for the Sharks, having played his youth rugby in Durban before moving to the Lions.
The team is captained by Springbok centre Lukhanyo Am, who forms part of a star-studded backline consisting of six international, with promising fullback Aphelele Fassi the only one yet to be capped.
Bosch has eyes on the prize
Hoping to stake permanent claim to the number 10 jersey is 22-year-old Curwin Bosch, who spent much of the last two seasons competing with fellow Bok, Robert du Preez Jnr for a spot at flyhalf.
Bosch sees this as an opportunity to further cement his spot in the team.
“For me to grow in confidence at 10, I need game time there, that’s how a player gets better and I’m really looking forward to it,” he told the official Sharks website.
The youngster, however, faces the daunting task of coming up against an experienced head in Bulls stalwart, Morne Steyn, who returns to Super Rugby after a stint in Europe.
“Morne brings a lot of experience to his side, they’ve lost quite a few players overseas and because he’s such a good kicker, we know our discipline and game management need to be really sharp this weekend,” he said of his opposite number.
“But we’re going into this weekend’s game with a plan and if we stick to it, the result will take care of itself.”
Bulls coach Pote Human selected his strongest team for the Friday night’s Vodacom Super Rugby opener against the Cell C Sharks, and in the process preferred veteran Bok flyhalf Morne Steyn over the younger Manie Libbok.
Steyn wasn’t the only preferential choice, as Ivan van Zyl, who captained the side in the Currie Cup, was selected ahead of fellow Bok halfback Embrose Papier.
Human moved Cornal Hendricks back to wing and Johnny Kotze back to his normal outside centre position, while Burger Odendaal will captain the side.
Scottish No 8 Josh Strauss takes the back of the scrum alongside former Cheetahs flank Abongile Nonkontwana and surprise package Jeandre Rudolph, who fills in for the injured Marco van Staden.
Interestingly up front Trevor Nyakane is on the bench in a six-two split, while Lizo Gqoboka starts at loosehead, with Wiehahn Herbst at tighthead.
Jaco Visagie will be at hooker with Juandre Kruger and Andries Ferreira the locks.
On the halfbacks, Human said the humidity counted in favour of the two more experienced players, and he expected them to handle the conditions well.
“Both of them are experienced, and both of them have a good kicking game. That is why we went that way, and it was also the reason we went with a six-two bench and I know Morne and Ivan can’t wait for Friday night,” Human said.
Hendricks felt more at home on the wing, according to Human, while Rudolph’s rise came mainly thanks to his impressive performance against the Lions in Superhero Sunday.
“We had made a call on him last week and we chatted to both. Both are more comfortable in their normal positions – Cornal at wing and Johnny at centre, and that is why we went that way.
“Jeandre we all know him. I saw him when I coached Tuks and he played for Pukke. I believe he had an excellent season last year and he took his opportunity on Superhero Sunday and that is why he is in the side and I’m very keen to see what he can do.
“Abongile played for the Bulls before, then went to the Cheetahs for a couple of seasons. He is back with me, he is one of my sons and played for me for a long time, so it is good to have him back.”
Human said he was looking forward to going into the game as an underdog and reckoned his side would surprise a number of people this season.
“I believe we will play some exciting rugby, we have a great squad with lots of depth so I’m looking forward to the season. I think we can surprise a couple of teams. We are the underdogs in this campaign and this suits me,” he said.
Kick-off is at 17:15 (SAST).
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Le Roux Roets, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Jeremy Ward
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Jeandré Rudolph, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Ruan Nortje, 20 Ryno Pieterse, 21 Wian Vosloo, 22 Embrose Papier, 23 Manie Libbok
Saturday 1 February, 6.10am NZT at Kings Park, Durban.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Egon Seconds (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)