Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford says the Blue Bulls have laid to rest the criticism that they are one dimensional, citing Morne Steyn as the catalyst for an ever improving backline.
The teams face off at Kings Park on Saturday in a match that will determine who tops the Absa Currie Cup log at the end of the weekend.
Bashford was acutely aware that the Bulls would rely on the physicality of the pack in the search to gain the ascendancy, but said to underestimate their back division would be a grave error.
“I’ve been really impressed by them this season. They’ve evolved their play wonderfully,” Bashford told keo.co.za.
“Their forwards have always laid a good platform for attack, but the difference now is that they have Morne there at 10. They don’t waste good go forward ball now by passing the ball 10m backwards,” he said in reference to former flyhalf Derick Hougaard’s penchant for slipping into the pocket.
“He [Steyn] takes the ball a lot flatter, attacks the gain line and is able to get those outside of him away . If you look down that backline you notice that they have some outstanding players and he’s the one that gets them involved.”
The Bulls are the tournament’s top scorers with 33 tries, while the Sharks follow closely on 26. Bashford said that the continuity in selection the Bulls have enjoyed has played a major role in their success to date.
“They’ve had a side pretty similar to the one they fielded in the Super 14, which has obviously helped them and the results have been there,” he said.
“Ourselves and Western Province have been hit hard by Springbok call-ups and to have those guys available now is really good.”
The Bulls have included Springboks Pierre Spies, Danie Rossouw, Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield in their run-on side.
The Sharks have included Springboks Jannie du Plessis (tighthead prop), Ruan Pienaar (scrumhalf), Frans Steyn (outside centre) and Odwa Ndungane (wing). In addition, they will also welcome back Springbok lock Johann Muller from injury. In total they’ll boast eight Springboks in their starting 15 and three on the bench.
The Sharks have indicated that they will utilise Steyn primarily as a midfielder and his inclusion at 13 forces Waylon Murray to the wing with Brad Barritt partnering him at centre. Frederic Michalak continues at flyhalf and Bashford said they were extremely encouraged with his development.
“Fred is starting to benefit from an extended run and we’re starting to see the fruits of that in his play,” he said.
“In the first six weeks of the tournament we used five different flyhalves because of injury and Springbok call-ups, which wasn’t ideal. But hopefully we can stay injury free going into the last couple of weeks because we believe we have a team with massive potential and continuity in selection is key to success.”
Sharks - 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Waylon Murray, 13 Frans Steyn, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Allistair Hargreaves, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Skipper Bardenhorst, 1 Deon Carstens.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis 17 Patric Cilliers, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Albert van den Berg, 20 Skholiwe Ndlovu, 21 Rory Kockott , 22 JP Pietersen
By Ryan Vrede