The Sharks have the defence as well as the kicking game to contain the tournament-leading Blue Bulls attack in the semi-final at Kings Park on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Bulls are playing an entertaining brand of rugby. Whether it is a title-winning brand of rugby remains to be seen.
John Mitchell’s side finished the Currie Cup round-robin stage with the best attacking stats. According to alloutrugby.com, the Bulls ranked first for carries, metres made and linebreaks. They finished the regular season with the most tries (64) and the most points (457).
That said, the Bulls lost seven of their 12 regular-season matches. That record included two losses to their semi-final opponents, the Sharks.
Much can be read into their shortcomings in other departments. The Bulls were ranked last in terms of kick metres and tackle-completion. They were ranked sixth (out of seven teams) for lineout wins and lineout steals.
The Sharks have progressed to the playoffs via a very different approach. They scored fewer points and tries than the Bulls did over the course of the league phase, but managed to rack up 10 wins.
Their lineout effected the second-most steals in the tournament, and no doubt they will look to target the Bulls in this area on Saturday. They were one of the most dominant sides at the gainline, and racked up more kicking metres than any other team.
Earlier this season, the Sharks beat the Bulls 28-20 in Pretoria and then 18-5 in Durban. The statistics of both matches highlighted the Sharks’ pragmatic approach as well as the Bulls’ determination to keep ball in hand.
The Bulls forwards failed to set the platform for their backs in both games, though. They lost seven kickoffs in Pretoria and five in Durban. They lost three lineouts off their own throw in the first clash, and two in the second.
The Sharks produced a stronger performance at the gainline (20 dominant tackles in the first game and 17 in the second). They had less possession and completed more kicks from hand in both games. Despite carrying less, they outscored the Bulls by four tries to two in Pretoria and two to one in Durban.
Many have asked the question: Can the Sharks’ defence stand up to the Bulls’ attack this Saturday? Robert du Preez’s side will certainly need to produce a stronger showing at the galnline than they did in their most recent loss to Western Province.
Then again, can the Bulls respond if the Sharks forwards fire and the hosts implement their pragmatic tactics? If the Bulls are battling at the lineouts and failing to make a dent in that Sharks defence, they may need to use the boot to gain territory or create attacking opportunities.
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