Coach Frans Ludeke faces a tricky selection this week as several star players are waiting in the aisles as the Vodacom Bulls look to back up their impressive win over the Reds with a crucial triumph over the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
Springboks Adriaan Strauss, Jan Serfontein, Handre Pollard and Akona Ndungane are all available for selection again, while flank Lappies Labuschagne, one of the Bulls’ best players in the opening weeks of the competition, has recovered from a shoulder injury that saw him miss the last three matches.
Hooker Strauss and flyhalf Pollard should certainly start against the Sharks, but the fine form of Burger Odendaal at inside centre means Ludeke should perhaps consider playing Serfontein in the number 13 jersey he wears for the Springboks.
Labuschagne will probably return off the bench, with the highly-talented Arno Botha match-fit and ready to continue in the number seven jersey.
With the back three of Jesse Kriel, Francois Hougaard and Bjorn Basson performing so well in recent weeks, Ndungane is unlikely to break into the starting XV after recovering from a broken hand. He will even struggle to get on to the bench because Jurgen Visser pretty much provides specialist fullback cover for Kriel, unless Ludeke creates a space by leaving out Piet van Zyl and uses Hougaard as the reserve scrumhalf.
The Sharks are currently in a hole but the possible return of Jannie du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira and Co could continue the revival in spirit that was seen against the Lions at Ellis Park at the weekend, but in terms of confidence, the Bulls are probably going to Durban at the best time.
Ludeke’s men are leading the chase for the South African SuperRugby Conference title and victory over the Sharks could eliminate the KwaZulu-Natalians from contention, with the Bulls at least six points ahead with a game in hand.
The following weekend the Bulls travel to Cape Town to take on the Stormers followed by a crunch local derby against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld and then their overseas tour. So the next three weeks are absolutely vital for the three-time champions as they look to gather as many points as possible.