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Super 14 final preview: Sharks vs Bulls

Article Published: Friday 18 May 2007
Edited by: Sports Digital Media
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Super 14 final preview: Sharks vs Bulls

Durban plays host to the first ever all-South Africa Super rugby Final between the Sharks and the Bulls at a sold-out ABSA Stadium on Saturday. To say there is nothing between these two sides is certainly an understatement.

It is fair to say, however, that the two better sides in the 2007 tournament will be battling it out on a hot and humid afternoon under the African sun to be crowned Super 14 champions.

Though whatever the result may be after referee Steve Walsh blows his whistle after 80 minutes, South African rugby is already the winner before the kick-off has even been made.

For the South African rugby mad supporters, the Sharks taking on the Bulls in the Super 14 Final pays tribute to their overwhelming support of not only the finalists, but of South Africa rugby as a whole.

The term 'close but no cigar' is the best way to describe South Africa's challenge in the Super rugby tournament after the game went professional in 1996.

But now there will surely be plenty of lit cigars going around come kick-off.

The Sharks, under the leadership of Springbok captain John Smit, have been the most consistent team of the tournament. While the Bulls, skippered by Bok lock Victor Matfield, have found themselves on a convenient upward curve at the moment.

Smit and his troops celebrated ten wins out of their thirteen games on the way to their 34-18 semi-final win against the Blues last weekend.

The Bulls had a shaky start, but landed up winning nine of their Super 14 matches before literally kicking the mighty Crusaders out of the tournament with their 27-12 semi-final win at Loftus Versfeld.

So both teams are in top form with not too many weaknesses it has to be said, which makes this Final encounter all that more mouth-watering.

But before you drown in your own saliva, lets take a look at the pros and cons we can find to separate these two teams.

The Sharks' advantage playing in front of a 54 000 sell-out crowd can put the men in black and white in good stead as far as home support is concerned.

However the Bulls certainly won't be playing in unfamiliar territory and their past wins at the ABSA Stadium prove this. Not only that, the visiting team's thought of playing at home away from home in a Super 14 Final will probably put the Sharks' home advantage on the fence.

As far as attacking play goes, the Sharks have always been renowned for their running with ball in hand and really put the width of the field to good use. It has been no secret that the Sharks' success has been paramount to this formula and should definitely stick to what they know best.

That doesn't say they haven't got what it takes in the forwards though.

Sharks' assistant coach John Plumtree has worked wonders for the side since he arrived as forwards coach from the Wellington Lions side in New Zealand.

Half the Sharks' tries this year have come off the line-out and drive routine. They'll be sure to carry on with that method on Saturday, but will need to show more aggression against a Bulls side that has plenty of the stuff to go around.

With the Bulls' world-class forwards in their line-up, it simply means that the game for them will be won up front. The Bulls have an immensely powerful pack with loose forwards that will do a lot of running off their fly-half.

The backs may argue that they too have what it takes to win a match, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. However, when it comes to crunch games such like this one - the Bulls don't need to be flashy. They want to win. And they going to use their best resources they have to do just that.

Defensive wise, the Bulls may take the icing on the cake in this contest.

The men in the famous blue jerseys have stood out head and definitely shoulders above the rest of the teams in this year's competition.

The Bulls ability to wear their opponents down may prove to be too much for the Sharks should the home team choose to take the game to the visitors.

The Sharks on the other hand will really need to be like their name suggests and sink their teeth into the hard running prey if they have any chance of survival.

Two South African teams playing against each other in the Final means it's going to be an extremely physical affair.

Both sides possess world-class players. In fact, these are world-class sides - plain and simple.

At the end of the day it will go down to which team can go the distance.

Players to watch:

For the Sharks: Young and exciting number eight Ryan Kankowski is a sure bet to loosen up the screws in a tight encounter. He hasn't got the biggest frame in the game, but boy can he knock down a wall of defence - something the Sharks will desperately need to break the Bulls' advantage line. The priceless experience of veteran full-back Percy Montgomery will be key to the Sharks' cause on Saturday. The Springbok number fifteen will also need his trusty left boot to work wonders should his captain call for it.

For the Bulls: Derick Hougaard will also be called on to continue his miraculous kicking display. His eight penalties in the semi-final against the Crusaders equalled the record for the most number of penalties in a semi-final game. Should the game live up to it's expectation of being a tight affair, expect fireworks from this man with the golden boot. In the forwards, flank Pedrie Wannenburg will be on an assault mission to prove to South Africa coach Jake White that he made a bad mistake not recalling him to the Bok squad.

Head to head: Johann Muller and Johann Ackermann (Sharks) versus Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha (Bulls). The aerial battle will be crucial for both teams and here we can look forward to a great tussle between these two fine pairs of locks. With Matfield being rested for the Springboks' tour of Europe last year and Botha pulling out through injury, Muller and Ackermann were called upon to fill the world-class duo's shoes. The Bulls' second row will want to prove they are still number one, the Sharks pair will want to show that they are not far off. In the backs, the skill and talent of scrum-halves Ruan Pienaar (Sharks) and Fourie du Preez (Bulls) will be make or break their team's surge towards Super rugby success.

Previous matches:

2007: Sharks won 17-3, Durban
2006: Bulls won 34-27, Pretoria
2005: Bulls won 23-17, Durban
2004: Sharks won 23-18, Pretoria
2003: Bulls won 24-16, Durban
2002: Sharks won 23-10, Pretoria
2001: Sharks won 30-17, Durban
2000: Draw, 14-14, Pretoria
1999: Sharks won 29-0, Durban
1998: Bulls won 12-8, Pretoria

Prediction: Finals are always tough to call because both teams will be equally up to the task than ever before - especially in this situation where we have both South African sides wanting to be the first to lift the trophy in the professional era. With nothing really separating the teams, it will go down to which side gets off to a good start and maintain their lead throughout the match. Although the Sharks have the home support, there may be enough blue flags to wave their Bulls team on. The Bulls by less than 10 points.

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Francois Steyn, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Butch James, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 AJ Venter, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Johan Ackermann, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Deon Carstens
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Warren Britz, 20 Bob Skinstad, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Adrian Jacobs

Bulls:15 Johan Roets, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JP Nel, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Derick Hougaard, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Pedrie Wannenburg, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Engels, 17 Danie Thiart, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Derick Kun, 20 Heinie Adams, 21 Morn Steyn, 22 Jaco van der Westhuyzen

Date: 19 May 2007
Venue: ABSA Stadium, Durban
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00 GMT)
Conditions: Sunny and warm. High 30C, low 14C
Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand), Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Television match official: Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand)
Assessor: Tappe Henning (South Africa)

By Dave Morris 365 Digital

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