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Prepare for plenty of thrills (and spills)

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks, Super Rugby on 23 Feb 2012 at 08:00
Tagged with : , , , , , ,

Pierre Spies has described the looming Loftus clash between his Bulls and the Sharks as a “physical war”, an indication that he expects a repeat of the bloody battles, typically dominated by relentless driving play amongst the forwards, that has typified these encounters in years gone by. I’m not sure that he’s right, though – in fact I find myself quietly hoping that the Sharks might just bring something entirely different to that this year.

I think we’ve shown over the past few seasons that, by and large, we’ve been able to match the Bulls at this kind of game, with either side, on any given day, standing as good a chance of winning as the other. In head to head encounters in Super Rugby, it’s fair to say that the Sharks and Bulls have been two sides very hard to separate in recent years, even though the men from Pretoria, regrettably, are the ones with all the silverware. It’s very tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that we should expect even greater dominance – particularly at forward – against the old foe now that they have lost a number of key players.

Problem is, we have too, albeit in this case (mostly) temporarily, due to injury. We’d be naive to discount the impact of losing the likes of Beast Mtawarira, Jean Deysel and Willem Alberts (along with John Smit and Eugene van Staden) since these are exactly the sort of player who have proved most effective in matching (or even beating) the Bulls at their own game. While I like the look of our pack for this game, I’d be lying if I said with confidence that I thought we had the upper hand in this area.

Why play that game, though? If last year taught us anything, it’s that becoming predictable in your approach guarantees a one-way ticket to rugby scrapheap and maybe, just maybe, the lack of old-school bashers in our lineup might force us to seek another, infinitely more exciting way to get the job done. After all, there are many ways to get to the goal line and running around the opposition, rather than over them, is also a viable option (albeit one the Sharks seem to have eschewed in recent campaigns).

Loftus will be interesting because the very nature of the team picked will force the Sharks to adapt to a new style of play. The Bulls will play like the Bulls always play and while they too will have some debutants on their books, you get the feeling that adding those youngsters into the mix will never really alter the dynamic of a Bulls team, because they are so well-drilled in their structures and their patterns. For the Sharks, though – particularly amongst the backs – this will be “just like starting over” and I’m prepared to watch what happens with somewhat of an open mind, knowing that cakes can’t be baked without breaking eggs (or something like that).

The Sharks, in short, are going to be forced to play a far more high-tempo, inventive and exciting game on Friday than would usually be the case; they simply don’t have the right personnel to win a forward-based slugfest and to try that route would be folly. I’m prepared for plenty of edge-of-the-seat moments as a result, but I’m trying to keep in the back of my mind that higher-risk rugby, while fun to watch, can sometimes backfire too.

Let the viewer be warned!


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