Only a brave man would bet against the Bulls

For the Bulls, it certainly isn’t about records. They will therefore not look at this weekend’s Super 14 match against the Waratahs at Loftus as an opportunity to record their fourth consecutive half-century in the competition or their 13th successive win at their home ground in the Super 14.


For them, there is the reality that they are playing a quality side that made the semi-finals in three of the last five years — notwithstanding the fact that the Bulls have won their last four encounters against the side that arguably plays the best-balanced rugby in Australia.


With two wins this year (50-32 and 51-34 against the Cheetahs and Brumbies respectively) plus the 61-17 Super 14 final win against the Chiefs last year, it would take a brave man to bet against the Bulls.


However, the Waratahs showed against the Stormers last weekend that they scrum well; they compete with the best at the breakdown and can dominate possession as they did against the Stormers, who had to make 76 tackles to the Waratahs 46 in that match; and that they can and are prepared to defend like Trojans.


The scrums in particular will be interesting. On occasions the Waratahs were clearly on top of the Stormers who now pride themselves on their proficiency in this facet; and the Bulls have made great strides due to hard work and no doubt the prowess of Gary Botha.


The Bulls are the undoubted favourites, even if only because of the new breakdown applications that demand discipline — something the Bulls have used as a basis for their successes over many years.


Two pre-tournament favourites to win the title meet in Christchurch in the weekend’s first match on Friday when Crusaders face the Sharks.


The Sharks have scored one try in two matches and have only two bonus points from their two outings.

 

Only a convincing win on Friday will persuade sceptics that everything in Durban pertaining to players or management is in order.

Unfortunately for them, the Sharks come up against a Crusaders side smarting from the 41-20 loss to the Reds in Brisbane last weekend.


The proud seven-time champions from Christchurch will not roll over and capitulate again.

 

And that could be the catalyst for another Sharks defeat. John Smit’s leadership skills will have give his troops the conviction that they are in fact a good side and can win, otherwise it could become a long season for the Durbanites.

On Friday at Newlands the Stormers play the Brumbies, beaten 50-32 by the Bulls at Loftus last weekend. Direct comparisons are not wise and seldom conclusive, but the Stormers’ show against the men from Canberra will indicate how much substance there is to the high hopes held in the Cape.


The Stormers are a side with an abundance of talent – and they could come of age this weekend against a solid Brumbies side. However, they’ll have to find that missing something to really click before the sceptics will believe, as they do themselves, that the 2010 title could be theirs.


The Lions are up against the Hurricanes in Wellington – a daunting task indeed and not an easy start to their double crossing of the Tasman on their tour of four matches.

 

Coach Dick Muir has warned about too much expectation from the new side that has two new wings, two new halfbacks, a new lock, two of last year’s fringe loose forward starting and a new hooker.

They were dominant in the second half against the Stormers, and marvellous in the first against Chiefs in the second match. The Lions now need to put two halves of quality together and retain their focus.


The ability is there, and dedication to their game plan and their team ethics could see them surprise the home side on a field that will be soft underfoot after Friday’s rain. A win in the first game overseas is probably too much to

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