Frans Ludeke says key positional adjustments have amplified the Sharks’ threat.
The Bulls head into their second South African derby at Loftus acutely aware that defeat would undermine their drive to finish at the summit of the table.
They face a Sharks side burning white hot. The visitors come into the match on the back of a five-match winning run and will be determined to keep their slim play-offs hopes alive by snapping the Bulls’ 16-match streak in Pretoria.
Ludeke was liberal in his praise of the Sharks, who lost their first five matches before the dramatic turnaround, and pointed to positional switches as one of the primary reasons for their recovery.
‘They always had a formidable front row, but I think the balance the way it is now has worked well for them,’ Ludeke, referring to the relatively new combination of Jannie du Plessis [tighthead], Bismarck du Plessis [hooker] and John Smit [loosehead], told keo.co.za. ‘They really stood up well to some of the better scrums in the tournament and have dominated at times.
‘Ryan Kankowski was a big loss, but their back row combination [Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Jacques Botes] seems to have gelled nicely and they’ve got a good balance between pace and power. In their backline Stefan Terblanche’s experience has solidified the midfield and Pat Lambie [fullback] is a terrific young player.
‘Their combinations are working well, and we know we’re in for a helluva match. South African derbies are always very physical and we’ll have to be up for that fight.’
Ludeke said the fact that on Saturday the Lions were able to stifle the Bulls’ attacking flow through a rabid breakdown contest wouldn’t have been lost on the Sharks. The Bulls never managed to deplete the Lions’ defensive line and held a narrow 12-8 lead at the break. They remedied that facet of play in the second half, but Ludeke cautioned that the Sharks would pose a more sustainable challenge defensively.
‘We didn’t control the ball well through contact at the gain line in the first half and paid the price,’ he said. ‘We knew they would be competitive there but probably underestimated just how competitive they’d be. We built an innings and eventually wore them down, but we’ll have to be better against the Sharks, who have the capacity to defend like that for 80 minutes.’
Turning his attention to his team, Ludeke said there was serious doubt about Jaco Pretorius’s availability. The centre sustained what is suspected to be a foot injury against the Lions, and will go for scans on Tuesday to establish the extent of the injury. Stefan Dippenaar will replace him if he is deemed unfit.
Meanwhile, Ludeke was non-committal about the involvement of Bakkies Botha. The Springbok lock trained with the team last week after recovering from an Achilles tendon tear, but was omitted from the match 22 on the grounds that he needed an extra week to recover.
‘Bakkies is a world-class player who brings a lot to the squad but we’ll have to sit down and weigh up the situation,’ Ludeke said. ‘Danie Rossouw had his best game of the season against the Lions last week, so we must consider that. Bakkies is still an integral part of this squad and we’ll consider all our options before announcing the match 22.’
By Ryan Vrede