Andre Esterhuizen, the Sharks’ bruising centre, confirmed on Tuesday that the KwaZulu-Natalians are coming to Pretoria this week to avenge the 40-10 hammering the Bulls handed out to them four weeks ago in Durban.
The pride of the Sharks has since been restored with excellent wins over the Stormers and the Highlanders, and they sense blood in the water because these are the two teams that have beaten the Bulls in the last fortnight.
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“After our last game against the Bulls, at Kings Park, we felt humiliated, so we have something to prove this weekend, we want to do the same to them. I’m sure they want to bounce back as well from their loss in Cape Town, but we haven’t forgotten what happened in our last meeting, plus we have taken confidence from our last game against the Highlanders,” Esterhuizen said on Tuesday.
The Bulls are currently bottom of the South African Conference, but they are just three points behind the third-placed Sharks, who are also currently in the last wildcard place in the overall standings.
Esterhuizen recognises that the Super Rugby competition is now coming down to the wire.
“We’ll take whatever win we can get, ugly, whatever, it doesn’t matter. You have to with the conference being so tight and we have to win every game now if we want to finish on top. It’s a massive conference battle at the moment and all five teams are still in the running. We’re going for the top spot, it is still possible,” Esterhuizen said.
Esterhuizen used to be the type of crashball centre who was a holder of the ball whatever the situation, but his game has evolved markedly since he joined Japanese club Munakata Sanix Blues and he is now a much better distributor. The 24-year-old gives much of the credit to consultant coach Carlos Spencer, who of course had a share in the way the Lions transformed their game under current Bulls coach John Mitchell.
“The game is a lot faster in Japan, you run from everywhere, even out of your 22. You can basically do what you want and there’s less kicking. So I’ve spent a lot of time training the extras – kicking, passing and offloads – with Carlos Spencer.
“I got my self-confidence there because your mindset is not to worry about making a mistake. If you make an error it’s not like in Super Rugby where the opposition will score a try. So you can try things and then you feel comfortable doing them in games over here,” Esterhuizen said.