Bulls braced for a bruiser

Derick Kuün says the Sharks are playing mind games by positioning themselves as underdogs, and is not overly concerned about the possibility of facing star flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez.

Sharks coach John Plumtree has consistently lamented the loss of the bulk of his first-choice 15 to the Springboks, and justifiably stressed that defending the Currie Cup title would be an arduous task because of the inexperience of their squad, particularly in the back division.

Speaking to Mike Greenaway of The Mercury, Plumtree said the Bulls were in better shape than they were in terms of personnel, noting that they will field their first-choice front row and midfield pairing.

The Sharks are waiting to see whether their halfback pair of Guy Cronje and Rory Kockott will have to face a disciplinary hearing for a spear tackle and striking a player respectively, in their match against Boland. If they are suspended the Sharks’ woes will be amplified.

The Bulls have, however, also lost the services of eight key players to the Springboks, not least of all their fulcrums in Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.

They also will have to do without the services of Springbok fullback Zane Kirchner (fractured cheekbone), while Springbok loose forward Pedrie Wannenburg (severely bruised sternum) and Deon Stegmann (ankle) are only down as 50-50 chances to play in Durban on Friday. Meanwhile, scrumhalf Heini Adams is struggling to recover from a shoulder injury sustained against Western Province at the weekend.

‘John Plumtree is a very, very good coach and he has shown that he has the ability to do well with limited resources,’ Bulls captain Kuün told keo.co.za.

‘They’ll miss their Springboks, but so will we. I think it’s all just a bit of mind games because we know how good their fringe players are, and that John has the ability to get the best out of them.

‘They still have a very good pack of forwards, particularly in their front row, and if they can get the ascendancy there, and get their flyhalf dominating the territorial battle, they’ll be really hard to beat.’

That flyhalf could well be Argentina and former Stade Francais pivot Hernandez, who the Sharks are hoping to have available for the King’s Park clash. His arrival from France has been delayed because of complications around a work permit, but Plumtree said that if he arrived ‘in the next day or so’ he would be considered for selection.

‘Hernandez is a world-class player and we’ll have to mark him closely if he plays because he is extremely skillful and also pretty physical. He can ignite any backline,’ Kuün said.

‘But our philosophy has always been to focus on what we can control and not to worry about the opposition too much. So, while we’ll be prepared for Hernandez if he plays, he won’t be at the centre of our planning.’

Kuün noted that the Sharks would be their biggest test to date, as they are the defending champions and have home ground advantage. He downplayed their tag as favourites, noting that they had been the underdogs against Province, but managed to come away with a victory.

‘It’s about what happens on the day. The teams are so closely matched that I don’t think there’ll be a lot of scoring opportunities. The team who takes their chances on the day will put themselves in the best position to win.’

By Ryan Vrede