Super Rugby: Sharks v Bulls Preview

Super Rugby 2018: Crusaders v Bulls Preview
After finally showing signs of improvement under Robert du Preez, a Sharks side on an upward trend will host a bullish Bulls outfit in what is expected to be another mighty South African derby at Kings Park this Saturday 14 April, writes Shaun Goosen.

Sharks v Bulls
14 April 17h15
Jonsson Kings Park Stadium

To Win (80 Mins)
Sharks 9/20
Draw 25/1
Bulls 18/10

Sharks (-6.5) 9/10
Bulls (+6.5) 9/10

Following an uninspiring first five weeks of Super Rugby performances in 2018, the Durban’s finest at last showed signs of development on their tour Down Under. For all the hype that accompanied them throughout their preseason, the Sharks had managed just one win in the competition before their trip to Auckland to face the Blues in Week 7, and that against the lowly Sunwolves, for goodness sake.

Losses to the Lions, Brumbies and Rebels, as well as an ugly home draw to the Waratahs had led to many Sharks supporters losing the faith and resigning themselves to the belief that, once again, 2018 would be a season of false hope with no real signs of showcasing the brand of “bums on seats rugby” that had been promised for years now.

That all changed in a fortnight. That 63-40 whipping of the Blues, coupled with last week’s terrific showing against the Hurricanes has pointed to a sort of midseason reawakening. The players seem to have bought into coach du Preez’s philosophy; one of bashing the living daylights out of the opposition up front, while allowing the likes of Lukhanyo Am, Sbu Nkosi and Curwin Bosch the time and space to work magic out wide.

Defence is still a clear weakness, but the Sharks seem to be finding their mojo. Indeed, the evolution of this Sharks team has served to make this weekend’s crunch clash with the Bulls an even more hotly-anticipated prospect.

The Bulls, coming off a bye, are improving under John Mitchell at a pace more akin to that of the tortoise than the hare. Don’t get me wrong, though, improvement is still improvement, especially after last season’s calamitous campaign.

Their stunning Week 1 win over the Canes was followed up by successive losses to the Lions, Reds, Chiefs and Crusaders before their fantastic 33-23 home result over the Stormers two weeks ago. Indeed, the Bulls showed glimpses of the physicality for which they were once renowned in the latter encounter; a hattrick to number two Adriaan Strauss perhaps summing up the performance best and underlining their steady growth under Mitchell.

Ahead of Saturday, the focus for both the Sharks and Bulls will be centred around dominating the collisions and breakdown. With afternoon thundershowers expected in Durban, the quality of ball flyhalves Robert du Preez Jnr and Handre Pollard receive will have a direct bearing on the result. Both will look to boss territory and play in the right areas of the pitch to keep up the pressure; something that will rely on whichever side’s forward pack gain the ascendency.

Verdict: Sharks (-6.5) 9/10
I’m expecting this to be a proper hard-nosed SA derby, with oodles of physicality and players looking to smash each other to smithereens. For the hosts, Jean-Luc du Preez and Andre Esterhuizen will have key roles to play, while the likes of Bulls loose forward duo Thembelani Bholi and Hanro Liebenberg should also be prominent. Playing at home though, I’d back the Sharks – under the stewardship of du Preez Jnr at 10 – to take it by between eight to 10 points.

Written by Shaun Goosen for

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