THE Bulls broke one record last week by winning at Eden Park for the first time and on Saturday they will have to conquer new ground to beat the Crusaders in their Super 15 clash in Christchurch.
The Bulls have not beaten the seven-time champions away from home in nine attempts but, as last weekend showed, records are there to be broken.
Eight of those matches were played in Christchurch, while the other was in Timaru and the average score against the Crusaders on their own patch is 37-15 in favour of the home team.
History does not point to a Bulls win but current form does indicate faint hope.
The Bulls have won three games on the trot while the Crusaders are winless after two matches this season, giving the visitors welcome momentum.
Flyhalf Morné Steyn is crucial to the Bulls’ effort if they hope to stop the losses hitting double figures, while the pack — with a resurgent Pierre Spies in the vanguard — will have to lay the platform.
Last week, the Bulls pack physically dominated a young Blues team, but this time around the Bulls face a more experienced eight, who will not be as easily bullied.
The Bulls lineout, though, with Victor Matfield laying the traps on his laptop, and the likes of Juandre Kruger, Flip van der Merwe and Spies executing the plan, is a weapon that can do great damage if used wisely.
The Sharks will also look to their pack when it comes to subduing the Brumbies in Durban on Saturday.
Props Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira have been spectacular in grinding opponents into the turf while the Sharks lineout has settled nicely after a shaky start in the first game against the Cheetahs. Former Lions lock Franco van der Merwe has been a key acquisition in that regard.
Ryan Kankowski’s surging runs, the calm authority of Pat Lambie at flyhalf, the directness of centre Frans Steyn and the strength and awareness of wing JP Pietersen ensure there is hardly a weak link in the Sharks team.
The Brumbies are top of the overall standings and have won their three matches against Australian opposition with ease. But the Aussie conference is arguably the weakest in the tournament and to date the Brumbies have not faced a side with the capabilities and strengths of the Sharks.
It is unlikely they will have the firepower to avoid a seventh defeat in eight visits to Kings Park.
The Southern Kings, after two surprisingly strong displays against the Force and the Sharks, face the ruthless Chiefs in Port Elizabeth on Friday night.
The New Zealanders lost to the Stormers last week, but scored four tries on their way to a narrow 36-34 defeat. Their ability to attack from deep and from turnovers will test the Kings in ways they have not yet experienced.
Facing the structured approach of the Force and Sharks allowed the Kings to keep to their pattern of organised defence. The Chiefs will ask more questions of their scrambling defence and how the Kings cope will give a clear picture of their overall quality.
The Cheetahs take on the Waratahs in Sydney this morning, fresh from their superb 36-19 win over the Highlanders in Invercargill last weekend.
Brumbies coach Jake White said he will use his knowledge of Durban conditions and South African players — especially those he coached while he was in charge of the Springboks six years ago — to his team’s advantage. Pietersen, Du Plessis and Steyn earned their first green-and-gold jerseys from White and now form the backbone of the Sharks team that will do battle against his Brumbies on Saturday.
“It is quite nice to know those players like the back of my hand and to know which ones scrum legally or illegally — it helps because I taught them everything they know,” White said.
“It is an advantage and the Brumbies players enjoy the fact that I understand those players, their psyche and their strengths and weaknesses.
“But my players still have to go out and play and they understand that I can only help them so much. On the day, they’ve got to go out there and do it themselves. It is an advantage but it is not going to count for anything once we get onto the field.
“The Sharks are a good side, they played in the final last year and they have been one of the in-form South African teams over the last couple of years, both in Currie Cup and Super Rugby. They enjoy playing at home in Durban,” White said.
With Sbu Mjilekiso