Two stadiums, 900km apart, will be the focus this week when two South African Vodacom Super Rugby derbies kick off on Saturday.
Based on current log position, it’s hard to argue that The Sharks will be the favourites when they host the Toyota Cheetahs on Saturday afternoon.
The most ardent of Sharks fans might be pulling their hair out at their team’s current form, but the KwaZulu-Natalians are heading the South African Conference, albeit by only three log points from the Toyota Cheetahs and the Vodacom Bulls.
The Vodacom Bulls head into relatively unknown territory to take on the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Saturday evening.
The Kings will, for the first time, experience what the travel factor in Vodacom Super Rugby is all about, but at least they will be returning to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium buoyed by a win in their last match, against the Rebels in Melbourne.
Even before the trip to Port Elizabeth, the Vodacom Bulls made some form of rugby history when their coach, Frans Ludeke, became a father for the second, third and fourth time on Wednesday. His wife gave birth to triplets, making him – as far as we could determine – the first Vodacom Super Rugby coach in the history of the competition to score a hat-trick of children.
Both South African derbies will be officiated by overseas referees – Jonathon White from New Zealand will be in action in Durban, while Argentina’s Francisco Pastrana, the best from his country, was handed the PE match.
The DHL Stormers have a bye this weekend and will be leaving for Australasia on Saturday, where they will face the Hurricanes, Blues, Waratahs and Rebels in the coming month.
The Sharks v Toyota Cheetahs
On the ropes after untimely defeats in tricky away fixtures last weekend, The Sharks and the Toyota Cheetahs will be looking to bounce back when they face each other at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.
Playing at home and backed by five straight wins over the Toyota Cheetahs since 2011, the smart money has to be on The Sharks for this one. But the KwaZulu-Natalians know all too well that they can never underestimate the team from Bloem.
The last time the Toyota Cheetahs beat The Sharks, was on 19 February 2010 at Kings Park. On that day, Riaan Viljoen scored a superb solo-try and kicked two penalty goals to help bury the Durbanites.
This weekend, Viljoen will be at fullback for The Sharks against his former team-mates, with only seven players in the Toyota Cheetahs’ squad for Saturday still in the side from 2010 – they are Hennie Daniller, Heinrich Brüssow, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Coenie Oosthuizen. Ryno Barnes, Frans Viljoen and Tewis de Bruyn.
Only five Sharks – Odwa Ndungane, Keegan Daniel (captain), Jean Deysel, Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis – were in action for the KwaZulu-Natalians on that day, but Viljoen and Meyer Bosman then still played for the Toyota Cheetahs.
Grant Bashford, assistant coach of The Sharks, said this week the match will be very important for both sides. The Toyota Cheetahs went down 26-20 to the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria last weekend, and the DHL Stormers were too good for The Sharks, winning 22-15 in Cape Town.
“The Cheetahs were full of confidence going into the Bulls game, but having lost on the weekend, they will be bitterly disappointed which makes this weekend even more important for them,” said Bashford.
“The disappointing thing for us is that we were creating opportunities but once again our option-taking let us down.
“Our set-piece battled at times and when we were put under pressure with continuity in our own half, we gave away penalties. Before we knew it, we were nine points down through penalties and we battled to get our own attack going with some rhythm and motion on the ball.
“Accuracy and decision-making cost us.”
In a late change to their team, Caylib Oosthuizen comes in for the injured Trevor Nyakane on the Toyota Cheetahs’ bench.
The teams are:
The Sharks: Riaan Viljoen, Sean Robinson, Paul Jordaan, Meyer Bosman, Odwa Ndungane, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Keegan Daniel (captain), Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter Steph du Toit, Wiehahn Herbst, Kyle Cooper, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Craig Burden, Jannie du Plessis, Anton Bresler, Lubabalo Mtembu, Charl McLeod, Frans Steyn, Andries Coetzee.
Toyota Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller, Willie le Roux, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule, Burton Francis, Piet van Zyl, Phillip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Heinrich Brüssow, Francois Uys, Lood de Jager, Lourens Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Coenie Oosthuizen. Replacements: Ryno Barnes, Caylib Oosthuizen, Ligtoring Landman, Frans Viljoen, Tewis de Bruyn, Francois Brummer, Ryno Benjamin.
Kick-off time: 17h05
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Southern Kings v Vodacom Bulls
The Southern Kings will on Saturday experience first-hand what the whole fuss about the travel factor in Vodacom Super Rugby is all about when they host the Vodacom Bulls at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The Kings only returned to Port Elizabeth late on Sunday evening after their four-match Australasian tour, which finished with a draw against the Brumbies in Canberra before they beat the Rebels in Melbourne.
A sold out Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will await the Kings on Saturday, with their regular captain and most experienced player, Luke Watson, also back after missing the tour because of injury.
Returning from tour is not always easy. Last year, South Africa’s two most successful Vodacom Super Rugby teams, the Vodacom Bulls and The Sharks, both experienced this first hand by losing at home upon their arrival back from Australasia.
In 2011, only the Vodacom Bulls managed to win their first post-tour home match, with The Sharks, DHL Stormers and Toyota Cheetahs all losing their and the MTN Lions getting a draw.
The Kings know they will have to be at their best to beat the three-time champions in PE and thereby recording their first victory over a fellow South African side.
“This should be a hotly contested game and I am really looking forward to it,” said Watson, who will be playing in his 84th Vodacom Super Rugby match, which includes 20 appearances for The Sharks and 62 for the DHL Stormers, whom he also captained.
The Vodacom Bulls will be hoping to build on their win over the Toyota Cheetahs last weekend – their first in more than a month.
“We had to work very hard for the win against the Cheetahs and we want that momentum carried over into the Kings match,” said Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.
“I am pleased with the way the combinations worked on the night and decided to stick with that. We will need to be very structured and cohesive against the Kings, who will be fired up and spurred on by a sell-out crowd. To have an unchanged team will hopefully offset those early challenges.”
Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies said: “We had to dig deep and needed all 22 in the squad to beat the Cheetahs, something that will work in our favour when facing the Kings for the first time. We need to focus on our own game and not allow the crowd to get into the match, so need to have a strong start and keep up the effort.”
The Vodacom Bulls announced a late change to their team. Dewald Potgieter was forced to withdraw with a knee injury. Arno Botha will start against the Kings, with Jacques Potgieter coming onto the bench.
The teams are:
Southern Kings: George Whitehead, Sergeal Petersen, Waylon Murray, Andries Strauss, Ronnie Cooke, Demetri Catrakillis, Shaun Venter; Luke Watson (captain), Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, David Bulbring, Steven Sykes, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira. Replacements: Hannes Franklin, Grant Kemp, Rynier Bernardo, Jacques Engelbrecht, Nicolas Vergallo, Marcello Sampson, Siviwe Soyzwapi.
Vodacom Bulls: Jürgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Lionel Mapoe, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies (captain), Arno Botha, Deon Stegmann, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Frik Kirsten, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morné Mellet. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Werner Kruger, Paul Willemse, Jacques Potgieter, Rudy Paige, Louis Fouchè, Bjorn Basson.
Kick-off time: 19h10
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwessen (South Africa)
Other fixtures (SA times):
Friday, 19 April:
09h35: Hurricanes v Force (Wellington)
11h40: Waratahs v Chiefs (Sydney)
Saturday, 20 April:
09h35: Crusaders v Highlanders (Christchurch)
11h40: Reds v Brumbies (Brisbane)
Byes: DHL Stormers, Blues, Rebels