Humdinger of the Weekend

24th – 26th May:

I suggest you buckle up and get ready for one MASSIVE Humdinger of the Weekend. This weekend’s Preview will feature my customary key Super Rugby Round 15 fixture – in this case the Sharks vs. Bulls; and then most importantly, the big one, who will be the Champion of European Football come Saturday night, Dortmund or Bayern? So lets jump right into it.

RUGBY:

The last few years has seen the Sharks and Bulls trading death blows with one of either of these two teams paying the ultimate price in Super Rugby, Elimination. In 2011 and 2012 the results went in favour of the Sharks, whereas 2009 and 2010 it was the Bulls who reigned supreme.

As a small recap, the results of those must win do or die matches:

2012-07-06 Sharks Bulls 32 – 10
2011-06-18 Bulls Sharks 23 – 26
2010-05-01 Bulls Sharks 27 – 19
2009-05-16 Sharks Bulls 26 – 27

This weekend presents the Bulls with a unique opportunity to eliminate the Sharks from this years competition in the first of their two meetings and to rub salt in the wound, to do it in the Tank and in front of their home crowd. The Irony should not be lost on any die-hard Blue Bulls fan, as it was a superb performance by the Sharks in 2011 that robbed the darlings of Lotfus, Messrs. Matfield and co. the opportunity to head off into retirement with one last win at home. In that match the Sharks dug deep and played to their true potential, winning a match that they really shouldn’t have.

So will they again upset the Apple and Superbru cart this weekend by holding out against the men from Pretoria and keep their fast dwindling hopes of playoff contention alive, or will the Bulls stick to their game plan, choke the life out of them, walk away with the big “W” and say “so long, and thanks for all the fish”? I am overly cautious in my prediction this weekend as the Sharks find themselves in the position which when the planets align, makes them the most dangerous team in the competition:

A: They have their backs against the wall.

B: They are at home.

These two factors on their own make for entertaining viewing at best, but when combined they make the Sharks a highly volatile and unstable element, hard to read and as many teams have learned in the past, a very dangerous outfit to play against. Make no mistake, the Sharks are heading into “Last Chance” Saloon and their drinking buddy is a very tidy Bulls outfit. As far as home derbies go, when these two teams play each other the result is always quality rugby. Whether they run at each other or play a forwards orientated arm wrestle style game, either way this Saturday will deliver on the promise of being an absolute Humdinger. And you can take that to the bank yo!

The Bulls have come out from under the radar and just like that find themselves deservedly ranked second on the overall log of the competition. They are 6 points clear of the Cheetahs and must win to keep that gap to them, as the Cheetahs are away to the Kings in PE on Saturday, and the only real question is whether the Cheetahs will pick up 4 or 5 points from that match. The Bulls will be the more cautious of the two teams on Saturday and will look to continue using their forwards to boss the collisions and breakdown and to use them along with Morne Steyn’s excellent territorial kicking game to strangle the life out of the Sharks. It can’t be a coincidence that a return to form for Steyn has seen a turnaround in their fortunes this season.

Aside from the forwards battle, which should be balanced out by the return of the Beast who was in sublime form before his injury, the key head-to-head between Steyn and Lambie will be keenly watched by many who are as yet undecided whether Lambie or Steyn should wear the #10 Jersey in the upcoming 3 match Series. Nothing brings out the best in Lambie more than playing his fiercest rival, but unfortunately even I will admit that it may be too little too late. Lambie may have played behind a weakened pack, but with an accurate kicking game to go along with his surprisingly accurate sharpshooting, he could have done more to gain ascendancy for the Sharks in games played this season. The fact that Meyer has in the past alluded to Lambie’s weak kicking game as an Achilles heel in his selection, may set to continue and Lambie’s performances this season will have done very little to change the mind of the National Coach.

The Sharks are a team that play off big ball carriers and without them, they have looked terribly lost this season, yes sure, they may have broken their 5 match losing streak and will have regained some of that lost confidence, the simple fact is that aside from a blistering start to their season, their gameplay has fizzled out and while I do think that they can definitely win this weekend, and while I know one should favour the home team, the Bulls offer more continuity and structured play. The fact that Olivier has been selected over the x-factor play of Serfontein is a clear indication that Ludeke is expecting his seasoned troops to go out there and do what they must, to rely on their experience and to get the win. I don’t expect the Bulls to do anything overly rash, which could just as easily play into the hands of the Sharks, but as has been the case this season, the Sharks have been terrible when it comes to sticking to their game plan and a solid team like the Bulls will punish them accordingly.

Willem Alberts return has added some much-needed grunt, and with the imminent return of Bismarck and quite possibly Butch as well, the Sharks could look a decent outfit for the run out of the competition after the June Internationals. Should the Bulls want to eliminate a fiercely competitive team from the competition so as to avoid tripping up on them later, then it is a case of sooner rather than later, they must throw everything into this match now and be done with it. History shows that these really tight games between these two teams always tend to be very closely fought affairs, so expect both teams to be in it right till the end with either team the opportunity to snatch victory.

Prediction: Bulls to scrape it by 1 – 5

Scroll down to the bottom to VOTE for your Humdinger of next weekend.

FANTASY LEAGUE:

Bulls structure vs. Sharks desperation. Enough said.

Bjorn Basson
Akona Ndungane
Dewald Potgieter
Francois Hougaard
Morne Steyn
Patrick Lambie
Willem Albert
Riaan Viljoen

SUPER-SUB:

Jean Deysel
Arno Botha

Teams:

SHARKS vs. BULLS:

SHARKS - 15. Riaan Viljoen, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Piet Lindeque, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel (Captain), 7. Willem Albert, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Kyle Cooper, 1. Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements - 16. Monde Hadebe, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Jandre Marais, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Tera Mtembu, 21. Tian Meyer, 22. Sean Robinson

BULLS – 15. Jurgen Visser, 14. Akona Ndungane, 13. J J Engelbrecht, 12. Wynand Olivier, 11. Bjorn Basson, 10. Morne Steyn, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Pierre Spies (Captain), 7. Dewald Potgieter, 6. Deon Stegmann, 5. Juandre Kruger, 4. Flip van der Merwe, 3. Werner Kruger, 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1. Dean Greyling

Replacements16. Willie Wepener, 17. Frik Kirsten, 18. Grant Hattingh, 19. Arno Botha, 20. Jano Vermaak, 21. Louis Fouche /Jan Serfontein, 22. Lionel Mapoe

Fantasy League Code – 10530538417553

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FOOTBALL:

How well does this weekends Champions League final bode for German Football? Are they on the rise, or is it just that German teams are becoming more equipped to take the battle to the Super Teams. In all honesty, Bayern is a giant of European football, having dominated the then so-called European Cup 3 straight years from 1974 – 76. Their third straight win meant that they got to keep the trophy.

Jürgen Klopp’s assembly of Götze and Reus)as well as the killer striking power of Robert Lewandowski is what has driven this Dortmund team to play like they belong. I for one thought that the Semi Finals pairing against Real Madrid may have been a bridge too far for them, but sheer grit and attitude as well as blistering pace on the counter with quality finishing ability has shown how devastating they can be. Bayern will not be underestimating them, and will know that as they head into their 3rd CL Final in 4 season, they are poised to give Coach Jupp Heynckes the perfect send off. Heynckes has already coached a team successfully to a Champions League title (Real Madrid 1997-98) and with a record Bundesliga Season under his belt, Bayern are best equipped to claim an illustrious treble this season as they are also in the Finals of the DFP SuperCup. The SuperCup or “DFP Pokal” is Germany’s version of the FA Cup and/or Copa del Rey.

Bayern have been absolutely unstoppable this season, having won their Premiership with a massive 25 points between them and second placed Dortmund, and their incredible 7:0 aggregate win over Barcelona in the semi-finals makes them the favorites to get the proverbial monkey off their back and actually take the trophy home this season, having lost 3 : 0 to Inter Milan in 2010 and which Bayern supporter will ever forget the agony of losing on Penalties to Chelsea played in their home stadium in last season final. This year has just got to be their year having not won the CL since 2001. Perhaps the biggest talking point about this weekends final is not the two contesting but rather the location of where they will be contesting the finals. Who would have thought that two German teams would descend on Wembley Stadium in the heart of London of all places. I am pretty sure that Winston Churchill is turning in his grave as we speak.

The Key Battles:

MARIO MANDZUKIC v NEVEN SUBOTIC

Croatian hitman Mario Mandzukic has plundered 20 goals for Bayern this season, but has managed only two in the Champions League, where strike partner Thomas Muller has chalked up eight. Mandzukic will be out to spearhead Munich’s formidable frontline, which also includes widemen Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, at Wembley, but faces a tough adversary in Serbia international Neven Subotic.

Standing alongside former Bayern player Mats Hummels, the 24-year-old has developed into one of the most impressive defenders in German football, linking him with big-money moves to Chelsea and Manchester City.

FRANK RIBERY v LUKASZ PISZCZEK

On paper, this battle looks like a mismatch; but in reality, this gets too close to call. Ribery has been one of the most consistent and prolific performers of the season, scoring and setting up goals at will. His ability to rip apart defences with those turbo-charged sprints rattles opposition nerves. But Piszczek is no small pony either, as his marauding runs from the right wing will prevent Ribery from taking a more free approach. But being one of the most fouled players and the team’s key playmaker, Ribery would definitely keep Piszczek in place, and the Pole would have to be more selective in his forays forward.

DANTE v ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach last summer, Brazilian Dante wasted little time in establishing himself as a key member of a miserly Bayern backline that has conceded just 15 goals in 33 Bundesliga matches so for this season – 21 goals less than the next-best defence in the division – and equalled a club-record of 20 league clean sheets.

The left-footed defender will need to show all of his composure to help shackle Poland forward Lewandowski, who crashed in all four goals to sink Real Madrid in their semi-final first leg at the Westfalenstadion.

JAVI MARTINEZ v MARCO REUS

This could be one of the most interesting duels on the pitch. Both young  guns have shown their immense potential and ability throughout the competition, and could possibly put in a match-winning display at Wembley. Martinez’s engine never seem to stop as he drags himself from one end to break up play, and then delivers a telling pass to set his mercurial teammates on their way. Reus, on the other hand, has an eagle eye for a key pass and, in the absence of Götze, will have to be BvB’s most creative player. The way Martinez kept Leo Messi and Co. in check, and Reus having instigated so many of those beautiful Dortmund moves against Real Madrid in the semi finals, it would be a really wonderful battle for the fans and neutrals alike.

A huge blow to Dortmund is that Mario Götze is set to miss Saturday’s Final after being ruled out through a thigh injury. The young German looks set to have now to have made his final appearance for Borussia Dortmund as he will move to final opponents, Bayern Munich from next season. Heynckes will be without the services of Toni Kroos and Holger Badstuber, but otherwise has a strong squad to pick from. His opposite number Jurgen Klopp will have to cope without talisman Götze and has been left with a selection dilemma as Sebastien Kehl, Nuri Sahin and Kevin Grosskreutz battle for the vacant spot. Mats Hummels meanwhile suffered a sprained ankle but is likely to recover in time for kick off. In four matches contested between the sides already this season Bayern have been victorious twice, with the spoils shared on the other two occasions, so the Munich side will go in as favourites. Nevertheless Dortmund will be confident of causing an upset after already beating sides such as Real Madrid, Shakthar Donetsk and Manchester City in this years competition.

Prediction:

While a close, hard-fought match is to be expected, the edge must go to Bayern.  Their domestic and international dominance this season makes them the undisputed favorites, and it will surely take a Dortmund performance of the highest caliber to claim the title.

Dortmund 1-3 Bayern

Likely Starting 11

Borussia Dortmund

Bayern Munchen

Weidenfeller

Neuer

Piszczek

Lahm

Hummels

Boateng

Subotic

Dante

Schmelzer

Alaba

Bender

Schweinsteiger

Gundogan

Martinez

Kehl/Grosskreutz

Robben

Sahin

Muller

Blaszczykowski

Ribery

Lewandowski

Mandzukic

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4 thoughts on “Humdinger of the Weekend”

  1. It’s also a case of history repeating itself. Last year, the Sharks opened their campaign against the Bulls in Pretoria and were favourites to win. They lost and if Pat Lambie had got the kicks then they would have won the match. The next game was against the Stormers in Cape Town where they lost as well.

    This year the Stormers have that itinery of planning both matches away from home.

    • Exactly. Ultimately for the Sharks, the difference was that they got 2 losing BP’s out of those matches, so yes they may have lost, and in all fairnes to all 3 teams, it is not easy to play them away and to win, so not walking away empty handed was massive, as anything less and they would not have made the play-offs at all. This is where the Stormers are going to have to concentrate. I’m not saying they shouldn’t focus on going to the Tank to win, but they should at the very least be able to walk away with a losing BP. If they can do that, it is similar in football terms as “A draw away is as good as a win”.

  2. key will defnitely be the halfbacks and well as a Stormers fan, I believe the Sharks pair are more settled and know what the other’s game is. That said if the Stormers pair get enough front foot ball and both play to their potential things will be very interesting in the Tank.

    So looking forward to this fixture especially to see, as you put it, if the Stormers can mentally recover from last week. Not having been in this position of losing the opening fixture for a few years now, will definitely be new territory for the youngsters especially.

    With the Stormers looking to attack more this year and well the Sharks always an attacking threat and to be honest a joy to watch, if my team is not on the receiving end of course, should be a much better game to watch than a Bulls vs Stormers match.

    #iamastormer

    • To take the Stormers lightly is a sin. Like I said, they may have had a bit of a shocker last weekend, but I stand by my previous ascertion that this is a classy team and that they definitely have the talent to bounce back. Once again, it depends entirely on attitude. Attitude is always the single deciding factor in the top SA derbies, and this one won’t fail to deliver either. The Coastal derby is fast becoming something to salivate over. While the Bulls are on the rebound, and looking good, the Stormers and Sharks have been the 2 best SA teams recently, meaning that their match up’s deliver more. I am well looking forward to Saturday as well.

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