The big Super Rugby clash of the season opening weekend is in Durban on Saturday night when former Brumbies coach Jake White's Sharks host three time champions the Bulls.
White left the Brumbies last year having coached the Canberra side to their first Super Rugby final in almost a decade. The Sharks regularly feature in the play offs and in 2007 hosted the final but lost to this week's rivals the Bulls.
The last two matches between the teams were both won by the Bulls and given their past record the Pretoria franchise will arrive in Durban with some confidence.
Overall across all venues the Sharks have played the Bulls 20 times since 1998 and the Sharks have won 8 times and lost 11 times. There was also one draw in 2000 (14 all in Pretoria).
The Sharks therefore have a record of winning just 40% of their Super Rugby matches against the Bulls while the men from Pretoria have won 55% of the matches.
The average score when the Sharks play the Bulls is Sharks 21 Bulls 18 so although the Bulls win more often the Sharks score more points overall.
The Sharks have hosted the Bulls 10 times in Durban and surprisingly they have only won 4 matches. At home the Sharks also have a record of winning 40% of their Super Rugby matches against the Bulls.
Impressively the Bulls have won 60% of their matches against the Sharks in Durban. The average score when the Sharks play the Bulls in Durban is Sharks 23 Bulls 17 which indicates that on the few occasions that the Sharks have won they have won big. An example of this is their 29-0 victory over the Bulls in 1999.
The Bulls won 16-18 on their last visit to Durban. The match before that was won by the Sharks (32-10) but the three matches before that were all won by the Bulls. In fact out of the last five matches between the Sharks and the Bulls in Durban the Sharks have won once - and just two wins from the last eight matches.
Much has been written about the Sharks potential to win the Super Rugby title in 2014. Few will doubt Jake White's ability to turn teams around but this year he has a Currie Cup winning team that is filled with Springboks so he has a different task at hand and the Sharks will be a new task for him. There is a very strong air of expectation around White's Sharks and if they don't deliver consistently from the start there will be no shortage of pressure.
In terms of selection this week White has named 11 Springboks in his starting line up and there are three more on the bench.
In contrast Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has named a young side that will be captained by Pierre Spies and includes a number of players on debut and a number of others with only a handful of caps. The most notable name on the Bulls team sheet is that of Victor Matfield on the bench and the jury is out on his return.
In 2014 there is no Morne Steyn for the Bulls and Louis Fouche will run the backline. Steyn was with the Bulls all through their glory years and Fouche has some big boots to fill.
The Bookies have given the Bulls a 7 point start for this Match - with an offer of a FREE $150 BET. The Bulls are starting with a fresh new while the Sharks have stuck with the tried and tested. The Sharks should win by 9 or more.
This Match will be shown on TV in NZ, Aus, SA and in the UK on Sky Sports HD.
Average score: Sharks 21 Bulls 18
Last five results
Sat, 06 Jul 2013 Sharks v Bulls 19-20 Pretoria
Sat, 25 May 2013 Sharks v Bulls 16-18 Durban
Fri, 06 Jul 2012 Sharks v Bulls 32-10 Durban
Fri, 24 Feb 2012 Sharks v Bulls 13-18 Pretoria
Sat, 18 Jun 2011 Sharks v Bulls 26-23 Pretoria
Sharks overall record against the Bulls
Played 20 ,Wins 8 , Losses 11 ,Draws 1
Match No2: Sharks vs Bulls
Date : 15 February 2014
Venue : Kings Park, Durban
Kick Off local: 19.10
Referee: Jaco Peyper(South Africa)
Assistant Ref 1:Stuart Berry (South Africa),
Assistant Ref 2:Marius Jonker (South Africa)
TMO:Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
15. SP Marais , 14. Odwa Ndungane , 13. Paul Jordaan , 12. Frans Steyn , 11. Lwazi Mvovo , 10. Patrick Lambie , 9. Cobus Reinach , 8. Ryan Kankowski , 7. Willem Alberts , 6. Marcell Coetzee , 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit , 4. Anton Bresler , 3. Jannie du Plessis , 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Captain) , 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements , 16. Kyle Cooper , 17. Dale Chadwick , 18. Lourens Adriaanse , 19. Stephan Lewies , 20. Jean Deysel , 21. Charl McLeod , 22. Heimar Williams , 23. S’bura Sithole
15 Jurgen Visser , 14 Akona Ndungane , 13 J J Engelbrecht , 12 Jan Serfontein , 11 Bjorn Basson , 10 Louis Fouché , 9 Francois Hougaard , 8 Pierre Spies (K) , 7 Jacques du Plessis , 6 Jono Ross , 5 Flip vd Merwe , 4 Paul Willemse , 3 Werner Kruger , 2 Callie Visagie , 1 Dean Greyling
16 Bongi Mbonambi , 17 Frik Kirsten , 18 Victor Matfield , 19 Jacques Engelbrecht , 20 Piet van Zyl , 21 Handré Pollard , 22 Ulrich Beyers , 23 Marcel vd Merwe