Reinvigorated Hollywoodbets Sharks hold the cards in SA 'Survivor' duel

Reinvigorated Hollywoodbets Sharks hold the cards in SA 'Survivor' duel

If the 2023/24 BKT United Rugby Championship season is a game of Survivor, then the Hollywoodbets Sharks, South Africa's lowest-placed team this season, suddenly are at the well and they have the swing vote.

It is one of the great ironies of this season that, in the final round of the league phase, the Hollywoodbets Sharks will determine whether the Vodacom Bulls finish outside of the top two, and who wins the BKT URC SA Shield.

Though the Hollywoodbets Sharks are out of play-off contention, their performance in the final round carries significant weight. A victory at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on Saturday afternoon would not only enhance the lustre of their recent EPCR Challenge Cup triumph in London, but also disrupt the Vodacom Bulls' quest for a top-two finish.

A roller-coaster season sees the Hollywoodbets Sharks go into Saturday’s clash in Durban on a run of seven wins in their last 10 fixtures in all competitions, a remarkable turnaround after beginning the season with just two wins in 10.

Becoming the first South African team to play in an EPCR final and win the Challenge Cup has added a new lease of life to John Plumtree’s Springbok-powered side. They are reinvigorated and in no mood to be charitable to their countrymen from up north.

However, with the confetti of the triumph at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium swept away, the Hollywoodbets Sharks now have an opportunity to prove that they have truly turned the corner by beating South Africa’s top team this season.

On the other hand, a defeat to the Vodacom Bulls on home turf would cast a shadow over their newly minted trophy and give Hollywoodbets Sharks fans reason for pause.

Meanwhile, for the Vodacom Bulls, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Although their place among the top four is assured, securing a top-two finish would guarantee the Vodacom Bulls a potential semi-final in the thin air of Loftus Versfeld, a crucial advantage in their quest for a maiden BKT URC championship.

Just three points separate league leaders Munster from fourth-placed Glasgow Warriors, with the Vodacom Bulls going into the final round in second place, two points behind the defending champions.

Jake White’s charges have lost just one home game this season - a 27-22 nail-biter against Munster in Round 14 - and their record at Fortress Loftus in the BKT URC is 409 points for and 228 points against. A home run through the playoffs would be a huge boost.

The momentum generated by the Hollywoodbets Sharks clinching a European title last week has Vodacom Bulls hooker Johan Grobbelaar wary of what to expect in Durban on Saturday.

“We’ve got to focus on ourselves and play the best rugby that we can, regardless what team they put out against us. Obviously they didn’t play their best rugby at the start of the season, but they’re playing their best rugby at the end,” Grobbelaar said.

“If you want to win the trophy you have to win games like this; if you want to win a semi-final or final you’re going to have to win in SA, even if it’s away.

“If they send their best team then we can measure ourselves against the best. We’ve seen in the past that when you go into play-off games and you had a very easy game of running away with the scoreboard, then teams tend to get a bit comfortable.

“We definitely don’t want an easy game, we want to get tested. All respect to the Sharks, people always talk about an A team and B team but whoever they send out will be very strong in Durban.

“This is actually a difficult time to face them, they’re starting to play their best rugby now. I don’t think they’re going to go away or are satisfied with their season yet, even though they’ve won a trophy.

“They’re going to want to finish strong; it’s a home game for them and they aren't backing off one bit and we’re up for a big challenge.”

There is also the South African Shield to play for, which this season will be decided solely on derby results.

The SA Shield champion will be determined by this week’s derbies, with the Vodacom Bulls leading on 20 points, closely followed by the DHL Stormers, who cross swords with the Emirates Lions on Saturday in the Mother City, with 17.

The Hollywoodbets Sharks are shaping to play the role of spoiler while the Vodacom Bulls thunder after the SA crown in an emotionally-charged SA derby, compounded by the subtext of play-off implications, which epitomises the unpredictable drama of the BKT URC.

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