The Vodacom Bulls and The Sharks will be holding nothing back in their quest to reach the Vodacom Super Rugby Qualifiers when they travel to Cape Town and Johannesburg respectively this weekend.
The defending champions from Pretoria have the seemingly tougher assignment than their Durban peers as they prepare to face the DHL Stormers, leaders of the South African Conference, at DHL Newlands at 18h10 on Saturday. Sparks are set to fly in Cape Town when last year’s finalists meet with the Vodacom Bulls playing for survival and the DHL Stormers for a guaranteed spot in the semi-finals.
The last time these two sides met, the DHL Stormers beat the Vodacom Bulls by 23-13 at Loftus Versfeld. It was early in the season and, after a slow start, the team from Pretoria have upped their game considerably, winning their last five games on the trot. They realise they have to beat the team from Cape Town to stay in the hunt and will be dead set on accomplishing that mission.
Unfortunately for the Vodacom Bulls, they will have to do so without two of their most experienced players. Boks Bakkies Botha (lock) and Fourie du Preez (scrumhalf) are both struggling with injuries.
Easy it won’t be, and the Vodacom Bulls will know that when they board the plane to Cape Town. Their opponents on Saturday pride themselves on superb defence – the DHL Stormers have only conceded 13 tries in 14 games this season, which is the best by far in Vodacom Super Rugby.
And while neither side would object to scoring a few tries on Saturday, bonus points won’t be at the top of their respective agendas, as four points for a victory will be their primary task.
The Vodacom Bulls would nonetheless not mind if they can create some space down the left wing for Springbok speedster Bjorn Basson, joint top try scorer in 2011 with the Toyota Cheetahs’ Sarel Pretorius.
Basson last week scored his ninth try for the season, equalling fellow Bok Bryan Habana’s season record for the Vodacom Bulls.
Habana will be hoping for the same as Basson against his former team. He’s not scored too many tries thus far in 2011, but looked sharp against the Rebels in Melbourne last week, crossing the Australians’ try line for one of the DHL Stormers’ five tries.
In Johannesburg, The Sharks will also focus on getting the ball to their two Springbok wings, Lwazi Mvovo and JP Pietersen, who both scored last week in their hard-fought victory over the Toyota Cheetahs.
The MTN Lions host The Sharks at Coca-Cola Park at 16h05 on Saturday in their last game of the season and while the team from Johannesburg are not a title contender any more, they have just returned from a good tour to Australasia and will be hoping to build on that form and finish their Vodacom Super Rugby campaign on a high.
The Durbanites have not lost to the MTN Lions since 2001, when they were still playing as the Cats along with the Cheetahs as second major partner. Apart from the 20-20 draw in Bloemfontein in 2005, The Sharks have won the last 10 games against their opponents from Johannesburg.
The MTN Lions will try and suffocate their opponents, depriving the in-form Pietersen and Mvovo of attacking opportunities. At the same time the home team will have to stand firm against one of their former players, with Sharks flanker Willem Alberts, one of the Durbanites’ main strike forces this season, proving his worth with ball in hand.
While 2011 form and history would indicate The Sharks to be favourites for this clash, they would not travel to Johannesburg too confident, as the MTN Lions have won two of their last four games – both on tour in Australasia, over the Brumbies and the Highlanders.
The Toyota Cheetahs have a bye this week.