Sharks

Muller pays Bulls duo some respect

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Sharks lock Johann Muller has paid tribute to his beefy second row opponents ahead of the much-anticipated all-South African Super 14 Final against the Bulls on Saturday.

With just one more night’s sleep until the first-ever all-SA Super Rugby Final kicks-off, most people would be tossing and turning in their beds at the thought of coming up against the Springbok second row duo of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.

With 85 international caps between them, Matfield and Botha have often been hailed as the best lock combination in world rugby.

The vastly-experienced Matfield bosses line-outs with consummate ease, whilst the more aggressive Botha adds the much-needed mongrel to any pack he features in.

Muller, however, has shown the rugby public that he, too, need to stand back to anybody – be it Springboks, Wallabies or All Blacks.

The 26-year-old is no stranger to the international scene, having stepped into the breach last year when Botha was injured and Matfield, later, found himself rested from the end-of-season Bok touring squad.

Whilst Muller took Test rugby with minimal fuss last year, he has maintained his form this season, culminating in last week’s Man-of-the-Match semi-final performance against the Blues.

“It’s a great opportunity to show your worth against quality opposition like Victor and Bakkies,” Muller told this website.

“They are brilliant players and world-class locks.

“It will be great challenge for all of us, especially in the pack of forwards.

“You tend to lift your game when you’re playing against the best players in the world and you don’t get a better opportunity than a Super 14 Final to do that.”

Of course, the challenge does not end there. With the Bulls currently on an upward curve at the moment, the Sharks will have to be on their toes for the entire 80 minutes of the match. Mistakes are not an option.

“There’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s something that we’ve worked towards for the last two-and-a-half years,” said Muller.

“Finally, the dream has come true with two South African sides playing against each other in the final.

“It’s just fantastic and the guys are really looking forward it.

“We know it’s going to be incredibly tough, but we can’t wait for Saturday.”

Tough is probably an understatement coming from the bulky 108kg (240 lb) lock.

South African derbies are well known for their intensity, no-nonsense approach and bone-crunching hits – but with so much at stake, one shudders to think just how much harder it can get out there…

“When you run out on to the field, there will always be a bruising encounter with two South African sides playing – that’s just the way it is,” said Muller.

“It’s going to be really tough and it’s going to be even more physical.

“But the great thing about South African rugby is that you can kill yourself on the field and have a beer with each other afterwards. [And] that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

With all the talk of forward dominance this week, both team’s dangerous backlines have slipped under the radar; although it would be fair to assume that the match will decided up front. The backs will simply decide by how much.

“There’s no denying that it’s going to be won or lost up front,” agreed Muller. “But we not going to stand back and obviously they aren’t either.

“Whoever’s watching; at the stadium or on TV, get ready for a fantastic battle.”

Their semi-final try-count aside, the Bulls have outpointed the Sharks in the try-scoring stakes this season; the men from Pretoria racking up 45 five-pointers in the league stages and the Sharks touching down 41 times.

Of course, Sharks fans will point to the fact that the Bulls scored 13 tries against the rubble Reds in the final round of league action. There is, however, no denying that the Sharks are an enterprising unit with youngsters Ryan Kankowski, Waylon Murray, JP Pietersen and Frans Steyn capable of turning defence into attack at the drop of a hat – or ball.

“I think we’ve done quite well this year, we’ve tried to swing the ball around at every chance we get,” said Muller.

“If you look at all the South African sides we’ve played, the guys have never got involved in off the ball stuff.

“That’s not what we’re about; we want to play the game. We want to play exciting rugby and we want to play winning rugby.

“For us, there are no personal battles in that department. We just want to go out and play the game and make sure that we win it.”

By Dave Morris 365 Digital

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