Sharks captain AJ Venter says Victor Matfield’s absence could be the deciding factor when the Sharks host the Vodacom Blue Bulls on Saturday.
Matfield is a contracted Springbok and is not allowed to play for the Bulls at the Absa Stadium Durban. While Sharks lock Albert van den Berg will also be sidelined by his Bok contract, they will welcome back non-contracted Springbok lock, Johann Muller to their second row.
Muller’s partnership with Matfield in the Tri-Nations was the an encouraging point for the woeful Boks. Together they outplayed the much vaunted Williams/Jack and Sharpe/Vickerman combinations.
Venter said in Matfield’s absence, Muller’s dominance in the line-outs on Saturday will be vital.
“Victor is the best line-out jumper in world rugby at the moment,” he told Keo.co.za. The Bulls will miss him big time, especially since Johann will return to boost us.”
Venter waxed lyrical about the 26-year-old’s improvement this season. “Johann has become a more complete player because of his time with the Boks. Obviously he is a huge asset as a [line-out] jumper but his play in the tight has improved a lot.
“The value of playing against the best players in the world is clear to see if you look at his game now compared to when he first joined up with the Boks. He’ll be a key player for us,” Venter said.
Even in Muller’s absence, the Sharks’ line-out has been a strength, with the youthful duo of Steven Sykes and Wouter Moore deputising admirably and often providing an excellent attacking platform for their dangerous backline. If initial reports from the Sharks are to be believed, Moore will be the unlucky one to make way for Muller’s return.
Bulls locks, Francois van Schouwenburg and Hottie Louw have been solid this season without being phenomenal and will have to be at their very best to nullify Sykes, and Muller’s influence.
Venter though conceded that while they might be perceived to have the upper hand in the line-outs, the Bulls’ traditional strength would pose the biggest threat.
“Where they have the upper hand is in their big, hard-running loose forwards,” he said. “If they get any momentum they’ll be really hard to stop.
“That’s what happened in the [first round] game at Loftus. In the early stages they really built up some momentum and before we knew it we were trailing.
“Eventually we got back into the game, but we won’t want them to get going again because I’m sure they’ll be more ruthless this time.”
By Ryan Vrede