Two world champions are set to embrace before kick-off in Belfast tonight before engaging in a bitter battle to end their sporting demise.
all thought Ulster’s Duane Vermeulen the most likely candidate to captain the Springboks last World Cup season; Instead, Rassie Erasmus boldly lobbied for Siya Kolisi to become his nation’s humble leader.
A year later the election was fully justified; Kolisi became a global superstar, but also a down-to-earth one; Vermeulen’s generous support was a key factor as South Africa enjoyed a crowning glory that was accepted by so many even if their style of play was not.
The slightly more modest boundaries of the United Rugby Championship tonight brings the pair back together in the back row – oddly enough, one of the many quirks of this competition means these sides have not met at all this season.
Now they’re doing so with crucial playoff issues to be determined. Sharks hold the edge before making the first thunderous tackle as they are third; Ulster are fifth.
The expected home win may put Ulster in a position to return here for a quarter-final; A win with the right momentum could even raise the prospect of a semi-final at home.
Given the way they effusively defied Edinburgh away last time out, they shouldn’t let nerves stumble, only lingering doubts about the consistent application of their many talents.
Bright pack fights aside, Makazole Mapimpi’s duel with Robert Baloucoune promises to be worth not only the price of admission, but the burger and pint.
“The Sharks have some serious athletes,” said Michael Lowry, who has mercifully returned to his roving full-back role after a rash selection against Munster in the outside half backfired for everyone involved.
“We don’t want it to be too unstructured because they have good players who can make something out of nothing, similar to Toulouse. We’ll try to play at our pace and keep a good pace in the game.
“We know how physical they’re going to be and it’s going to be a real fight ahead.”
A bit like Munster, Ulster’s painful legacy as they conspired to lose to their Champions Cup champions reveals familiar question marks over their authority in the silverware battle.
Tonight there is no need to restore those credentials. but at least a win will ensure that the questions are not put to them in another hemisphere.
Ulster: M Lowry; Baloucoune R, Hume J, McCloskey S, McIlroy E; B. Burns, J. Cooney; A Warwick, R Hering, T O’Toole, A O’Connor, I Henderson (Captain), M Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen. Representatives: J Andrew, E O’Sullivan, G Milasinovich, K Treadwell, M Rea, N Doak, S Moore, R Lyttle.
sharks: A barrel; W Kok, L Am, M Louw, M Mapimpi; C Bosch, J Hendrikse; O Nche , B Mbonambi, T du Toit (captain), R van Heerden, R Hugo, S Kolisi, H Venter, P Buthelezi. Representatives: K van Vuuren, N Mchunu, K Mchunu, H Andrews, J Labuschagne, S Notshe, G Williams, B Chamberlain.
Ref: B. Blain (SRU)
Ulster v Cell C Sharks, 7.35pm
TG4, BBC NI, Premier Sports
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/pro14/springbok-beasts-duane-vermeulen-and-siya-kolisi-collide-as-ulster-seek-home-advantage-41668653.html Springbok beasts Duane Vermeulen and Siya Kolisi collide as Ulster seek home field advantage