Sharks appear to have better look about them than the visiting Bulls
The Sharks may not have developed at the pace at which they wanted to‚ but securing of a play-off spot under a new coach this season is far better than what the Bulls have achieved this season ahead of Friday's Super Rugby clash at King's Park.
For starters‚ the Sharks have collected 42 points‚ 12 more than Africa Conference one leaders the Stormers.
If the Super Rugby log was determined on points rather than conference positions‚ the Sharks would have had the possibility of playing for a home quarterfinal while also having the chance of putting the Bulls permanently out of the tournament.
With 16 points from their 12 matches‚ the Bulls are mathematically out of play-off contention‚ especially with the Stormers having the easy task of having to deal with the Sunwolves in Cape Town next week.
With Nollis Marais' tenure as the Super Rugby head coach coming to an end after the next three matches‚ there's no play-off round for the second consecutive year.
It is a sign of how the Bulls have regressed even though there have been factors far beyond his control this season.
At least he has the benefit of three Springboks in Lood de Jager‚ Jesse Kriel and Jan Serfontein who all put in decent shifts for the national team in the 3-0 series whitewashing of France.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez has also seen fit to rest some of his Springboks as the prospect of having to travel to New Zealand for a date with the Crusaders if they finish top of the Australasian conference.
The Sharks have done the respective hard yards expected of them in a year when they avoided the might of the New Zealand sides‚ but there have been times when they haven't quite done themselves justice.
The dreary draw against the Rebels and the loss to the Reds were two such results but they've also been part of riveting encounters like the losses to the Lions and the Southern Kings.
Du Preez said the month-long international break can also be counterproductive even though the players need it.
However‚ he also said the Bulls cannot be taken lightly despite their indifferent season.
“The players do need a break because they have been playing 13 games in about 13 weeks‚" Du Preez said.
"A break was necessary but maybe a month was too long.
"Fortunately we had some guys playing for the Boks and the South Africa A team.
"We played all the available guys in the Cheetahs game last week. Regardless of how hard you prepare‚ you can't replicate match practice.
“The Bulls/Sharks derbies are always tough encounters and they've got nothing to lose. That makes them very dangerous.
"They've got exciting backs and they've also got the Springbok centre pairing along with a tough pack of forwards.”
Sharks' Team: 15 Curwin Bosch‚ 14 Odwa Ndungane‚ 13 S’bura Sithole‚ 12 Andre Esterhuizen‚ 11 Sbusiso Nkosi‚ 10 Garth April‚ 9 Cobus Reinach‚ 8 Daniel du Preez‚ 7 Tera Mtembu‚ 6 Philip van der Walt (c)‚ 5 Stephan Lewies‚ 4 Etienne Oosthuizen‚ 3 Coenie Oosthuizen‚ 2 Franco Marais‚ 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle‚ 17 Juan Schoeman‚ 18 Lourens Adriaanse‚ 19 Hyron Andrews‚ 20 Jacques Vermeulen‚ 21 Michael Claassens‚ 22 Jeremy Ward‚ 23 Marius Louw.
Bulls's Team: 15 Warrick Gelant‚ 14 Duncan Matthews‚ 13 Jesse Kriel‚ 12 Jan Serfontein‚ 11 Kefentse Mahlo‚ 10 Tony Jantjies‚ 9 Rudy Paige‚ 8 Nic de Jager‚ 7 Jannes Kirsten‚ 6 Ruan Steenkamp‚ 5 RG Snyman‚ 4 Jason Jenkins‚ 3 Conraad Van Vuuren‚ 2 Adriaan Strauss (c)‚ 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie‚ 17 Lizo Gqoboka‚ 18 John-Roy Jenkins‚ 19 Shaun Adendorff‚ 20 Renaldo Bothma‚ 21 André Warner‚ 22 Burger Odendaal‚ 23 Tian Schoeman.