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Team Points
Premier Division
Xerox Golden Lions 10 10 48
Vodacom Blue Bulls 10 8 39
DHL Western Province 10 7 35
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 10 3 24
Cell C Sharks 10 4 22
Steval Pumas 10 3 17
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ORC Griquas 10 1 8
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ABSA Currie Cup Preview – Round 7


Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Currie Cup, Original Content, Sharks on 18 Sep 2014 at 15:12
Tagged with : , , , , , , , , , ,

The Sharks cling to fourth spot on the table, but face a very interesting challenge against the Blue bulls at Loftus this week. With neither team able to afford another loss, it should again be a cracker of a match.

Blue Bulls v Sharks – 5:05pm Saturday in Pretoria

Two teams facing rather similar fates, it would seem, will come up against each other for the first time this Currie Cup season. The Blue Bulls started woefully, battling to get off the foot of the log before a scrappy win over the EP Kings at Loftus gave them some confidence. A big (and rather unexpected) win over the Lions added further to their confidence, with a second win over the Kings last week seeing them now just outside of the top four, with three wins in six starts. They’re a team on the up, results-wise, even if their play does not yet suggest they are ready to count amongst the competition’s top tier.

The Sharks, on the other hand, started out with a trio of wins that many would feel were undeserved, before coming down to earth harshly in the return fixtures. A nightmare fortnight, encompassing losses to the Pumas and Griquas, saw the team slip from second down to fourth and last week’s draw against the Cheetahs did little to help their log position, despite some marked improvements in the standard of their play. Fans are hoping that the Sharks, too, are on an upwards curve, but come the end of 80 minutes at Loftus, any signs of momentum could be well and truly snuffed out, leaving the new coaching team back at square one.

Changes to the teams
We’ve already talked about the Sharks changes and the impact on continuity. The Blue Bulls have also switched a few men around, recalling Rudy Paige and Callie Visagie in unenforced changes, while Wiaan Liebenberg has had to come in at openside flank for the suspended Deon Stegmann. Jono Ross assumes the captaincy from number 8. In the only other backline change, Sampie Mastriet replaces Akona Ndungane at wing, meaning neither brother will be in action at Loftus this weekend.

The loss of Stegmann is perhaps the one that will be most keenly felt, since he is their captain and primary scavenger. Ross did not impress in a leadership role last season and it remains to be seen just how much he has come along in this facet. Visagie over Mbonambi is a strange call, given how good the latter has been when asked to start this year; however, we know that coach Frans Ludeke prefers Visagie’s supposedly stronger set-piece game.

The set piece
We anticipate the Sharks having the slightly stronger scrum, but it’s unlikely to be so dominant as to have a measurable impact on the result. It’s the lineout htat is perhaps more interesting, with Visagie adding as much to the Bulls’ cause as the loss of Lewies detracts from the Sharks’. We expect the hosts to use the lineout as a strong attacking platform, with the bulk of the likes of Paul Willemse used to good effect in the ensuing mauls. How well the Sharks counter this tactic may go some way to determining the result.

Countering the direct threat
The Bulls will play close to the breakdown and will use the likes of Willemse and Dean Greyling to get them over the advantage line. With Sharks halfbacks Hoffmann and Cronje not renowned for their dominant defensive work, this route could result in plenty of gain for the Bulls and you can expect them to favour it all day. Andre Esterhuizen can make a name for himself here and it’s reassuring that the Sharks have his bulk available in that channel; so much will depend on how well the youngster adjusts and take on the responsibility given to him this week.

The breakdown battle
The Sharks actually did a very good job of turning ball over against the Cheetahs and will want to build on that performance, particularly in the absence of a recognised fetcher in the opposing ranks. Dale Chadwick and Kyle Cooper emerged from Bloemfontein as the main pilferers, with Jacques Botes cast in a more supporting role, but the locks and loose forwards will have a huge ask ahead of them this week as they aim to get numbers to the breakdown to counter the momentum on which the Bulls’ game is based.

The high ball
You can, of course, depend on the Bulls using the boot of flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter to create uncertainty in the air. In Bjorn Basson, he has a master chaser at his disposal, but the Sharks are not shy of counter-attacking threats either and it would be nice to see faster and more elusive Sharks back three used to good effect, making the Bulls pay for going to the air too often.

The X-factor
One of the areas that’s most exciting about this fixture is the clash of styles that we typically see, particularly in Currie Cup. The Sharks have more ball players, more men with that elusive “uncoachable” quality and while we’ve not seen too much evidence of that this year, the chance always exists that the likes of a Sithole, Mvovo, Mtembu or Swiel could produce a moment of magic to turn a half-chance into a 70 meter try. The Sharks will need to take full advantage of any such opportunities, because I feel they’re going to come second in terms of the percentage battle. So much will depend on which players pitch up – the switched-on Sharks that know how to win at Loftus, or the bumbling and fumbling crew that we saw in Nelspruit.

Prediction
As the biggest Sharks supporter on the planet, it breaks my heart to do this, but I’m calling a Bulls win by 5 points. I’m not convinced that there has been quite enough improvement in the Sharks’ game so far to be optimistic about a win at Loftus, where something extra special is a guaranteed requirement. I’d love to be wrong and I’d love to see some good play and a few exciting tries, even if Potgieter’s boot proves instrumental on the day.

Blue Bulls: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Jesse Kriel.

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Conrad Hoffmann, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu (captain), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 JC Astle, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Johan Meyer, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Cameron Wright, 21 Tim Swiel, 22 Tonderai Chavhanga.

In other games, we expect the Lions to beat the Pumas in a tight game, Western Province to trounce Griquas with a bonus point and – shockingly – the EP Kings to pick up their first win of the season, in a 1-point thriller against the Cheetahs.



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