Early results could influence Durban result

The results of the earlier matches could largely influence the Super 14 rugby clash between the Sharks and the Bulls in Durban on Saturday.

They play the very last rugby match in the 2009 competition – and by then the Sharks could have nothing more than pride to play for, while the Bulls could still be in with a chance of taking the number one spot on the log to ensure a home semifinal and a possible home final.

The Sharks remain upbeat about their chances of making the semifinals. The odds are against that happening, however.

Tournament favourites until a few weeks ago, the Sharks are now sixth on the log. They have to beat the Bulls and hope the log-leading Chiefs beat the Brumbies in Hamilton on Friday morning, and also that the Blues can down the Crusaders.

The Waratahs, who play the Lions in Johannesburg on Friday night, can also still end ahead of the Sharks with a good win and are thus a play-off danger to the Durbanites.

The Bulls, on the other hand, even if they lose to the Sharks, also have to lose their points differential of 57 over the Brumbies and not get a bonus point in their loss to the Sharks to be eliminated from the semifinals.

There are some intriguing individual battles to look forward to, although it won’t be a mini-trail in anything but name for the selection of the Springbok side.

The selectors have seen what they wanted to, and they have made their decisions in probably all positions but that of fullback.

It would nevertheless be interesting to watch Pierre Spies against Ryan Kankowski, Bryan Habana versus JP Pietersen although they are not direct opponents, Fourie du Preez taking on the cocky, sharp Rory Kockott, John Smit (and Jannie du Plessis) against Gurthro Steenkamp and Deon Stegmann against Keegan Daniel at the breakdown.

– The Springbok flyhalf incumbent and favourite to make it against the British Lions, Ruan Pienaar, will be measured against a confident, complete flyhalf in Morne Steyn who will play the tactical game that has worked so well for the Bulls.

As if this is not enough, there will be the in-form Wynand Olivier in midfield to further underline his claims for a Bok place against Adi Jacobs.

Sharks coach John Plumtree, on the Sharks website, vows that his team will not give up – regardless whether they’re still in the race or not: “Hopefully the clash will be up there with Sharks-Bulls clashes of the past, with the same intensity.”

The earlier results, regardless of what Plumtree says, will have an effect. The Bulls are on a roll, have a near-unbreakable pattern, with forwards playing their traditional aggressive game, and backs that defend well and have shown an added dimension to the Bulls game in their latter matches. The Bulls should win.

– The match between Crusaders and the Blues in Auckland is critical to the Sharks’ chances. The Blues were skinned 37-15 by the Brumbies last weekend, and have become a listless, disorganised side because of their many injury problems.

It is unlikely that they will topple the defending champions who, although not the quality side of last year, have put together some effective wins through their calm and clinical approach. What will motivate the Crusaders is a Chiefs and/or Bulls defeat can see them through to a home play-off.

-Another match on Saturday is between the Reds and the Hurricanes in Brisbane. The Hurricanes need a win to ensure they’ll at least be in the play-offs. They, too, can be at home in the semifinal if they get a win and the Bulls and/or the Chiefs lose.

The Reds, for all their heroics in beating some of the top sides, have struggled lately and are unlikely to lift themselves for a match where the Hurricanes – despite having a reputation for folding under pressure – should do enough to keep at lea

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