Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Date: Saturday, January 30th, 2021
The Bulls have led this competition from the days of Super Rugby Unlocked and they finished top of the log with 39 points from their 12 games – though the Bulls could easily have reached 44 points had they not played the kids in their final round loss with top spot already in the bag. They then dispatched the Golden Lions by five points in their semi-final. The Sharks, on the other hand, had more of a fight to reach the semi-final stage. They finished third on the log with 35 points, finishing four points ahead of the fifth-placed Cheetahs. The Sharks then caused an upset last weekend by turning over Western Province away from home by 10 points.
The most recent encounter between these two at Loftus is not something that the Sharks will look back on fondly. In October of last year, the Sharks were drubbed 41-14 in a match that was every bit as one-sided as the scoreline suggests. For the Sharks to turn that result around – and they were able to in Durban a few weeks ago – they will need to match power with power in the forwards – the Bulls love to bully the opposition into submission in the set-piece and with their power runners – while also exploiting any space and games with a backline that is silky and destructive on its day.
Bulls director of rugby Jake White has picked the type of squad that would be expected from an outfit like the Bulls for this final. He is blessed with a wealth of experience throughout his squad and White has the luxury of naming a relatively unchanged team from the one that dispatched the Golden Lions 26-21 in a battle that was probably closer than most expected last weekend.
The only change in the team comes in the pack. Hooker Johan Grobbelaar – the first-choice No. 2 for most of the season who was on the bench for the semi-final – finds himself back in the starting lineup ahead of Schalk Erasmus. Grobbelaar made a huge impact when entering the fray last week as he scored the driving maul try that saw the Bulls take the lead for good against the Lions. The change sees Erasmus drop to the bench.
The replacement Bulls fans would have liked to see never materialized with Blitzbok center Stedman Gans having been unable to shake the hamstring issue that cost him his place in the semi-final team. The versatile Marco Jansen van Vuren will again be deputizing for Gans.
The Sharks have no additional injury or suspension concerns from the 19-9 win at Newlands that saw them book their spot in the final against the Bulls. That means that coach Sean Everitt is able to name the exact same 23 in his matchday squad that took down Western Province one week ago – something that is very rare in the current age of rugby given the size of players and the injuries that are picked up on a week to week basis.
The only change that Everitt is making is a rotational one at the No. 9 position. Sanele Nohamba drops to the bench as the exciting and talented Jaden Hendrikse is promoted to the starting XV. This means that Nohamba – who at 22-years-old is only two years older than Hendrikse – will be used as an impact substitute in the second half to help decide the fate of the contest.
The issue for the Sharks is that the Bulls have been entirely dominant at home this season. While the win in Durban will give them encouragement – as will the lengths to which the Golden Lions pushed the Bulls last time out – this is still a Bulls team that has won six in a row at home. The Sharks are also an inconsistent bunch – they have lost two of their last four games and neither was particularly close – and their need to dominate the set-piece will be a challenge against this Bulls side. I like the Bulls to continue their home form and finish the season with a big performance and a big victory. Take the Bulls -6.5 at 0.95 with BetXChange.