The Cell C Sharks and Blue Bulls go head-to-head tonight in what is shaping up to be an explosive Currie Cup derby match between two proud sides, both riding a wave of confidence due to current form.
The Blue Bulls are coming off a morale-boosting 54-22 victory over the Lions, albeit a side missing their first choice players because of their participation in the Super Rugby final, and that knowledge will temper their enthusiasm for the result.
The Cell Sharks too come into this match with confidence following two good performances in recent weeks.
Both sides have a busy schedule with three matches played in the matter of a week or so, and this negates any advantage one side might have over the other in that respect.
“It is quite unusual to have a midweek fixture,” explains scrumhalf Michael Claassens, but having played much of his rugby in the UK, it’s not a completely novel experience. “I have done it before in the UK, and before that in school. But we’ve been managed quite well and been looked after, and we’ve prepared well.”
Claassens admits that they have a tough clash on their hands tonight. “The Bulls have been good in the competition so far so it will be a tough game.”
But there’s no discounting his own team’s good run of form and continuity. “We were a bit rusty against the Pumas but improved in our match against Griquas, so we’ll keep trying to improve, getting better each week,” he says. “It helps when you have consistency in team selection, so the players get used to each other.
“These last two games have given us confidence. I wouldn’t say we’re feeling comfortable – the last time we played the Bulls at Loftus, we were in a comfortable position and they ended up bullying us, so we won’t let that happen again.”
Talking Bulls, he admits that there have been changes to their style of play, no longer 10 man rugby.
“They play differently, they’re not the Bulls of old. They like to throw the ball around, they like to attack more, and although our defence has been good the last couple of weeks, we expect it to be really tested this week.”
Claassens feels that the presence of John Mitchell would have already had an effect at the union. “Those guys would need to prove themselves, knowing there is someone new in charge.”
For new lock Tyler Paul, originally from Gauteng but moved to the Eastern Cape during his primary school years, this match will be one in which he plays against the team he grew up supporting.
“They were the dominant side at that stage and playing lock then, I idolised Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield,” he explains.
“This is a very important game, there’s a short turnaround – although that’s no excuse – but we’re always looking for improvement, so we will have to pitch up against the Bulls.
“They don’t have the same game plan as our last two opponents, they are much more physical and we’ll have to deal with that. We do have a plan in place.”
|The Cell C Sharks
|1||Thomas du Toit||16||Akker van der Merwe|
|2||Franco Marais||17||Juan Schoeman|
|3||Ross Geldenhuys||18||John-Hubert Meyer|
|4||Tyler Paul||19||Jean Droste|
|5||Ruan Botha (Captain)||20||Cameron Wright|
|6||Keegan Daniel||21||Benhard Janse van Rensburg|
|7||Jacques Vermeulen||22||Odwa Ndungane|
|14||Kobus van Wyk|