The Sharks will not record a historic win in Christchurch unless they limit the influence of All Blacks flanker Richie McCaw, writes JON CARDINELLI.
After a slow start to the competition, the Crusaders are starting to hit their stride. They've won their past five matches, and were especially impressive in the two big victories over the Reds and Brumbies.
McCaw has certainly made a difference for the Crusaders in the past two matches. The game against the Brumbies marked his return to rugby after a lengthy injury lay-off, and he contributed with a typically hard-working and game-shaping display at the breakdown. The second clash against the Reds witnessed a performance that was just as valuable to the Crusaders' cause.
The Crusaders, and indeed the All Blacks, are tougher to beat when McCaw is in the line-up. The Sharks will not win Saturday's clash in Christchurch if their forwards fail to outplay McCaw at the tackle.
Bismarck du Plessis has proved one of the best fetchers in the competition, despite the fact that he wears a No 2 on his back. But it will take a collective effort, and a superhuman one by the Sharks loose forwards, for the visitors to get one over the All Blacks legend.
Kicking will also play an important role in this contest, whether it is for field position or goal. Flyhalf Colin Slade has done a good job for the Crusaders in the absence of Dan Carter, and will punish any Sharks transgressions this Saturday.
The Sharks will be hoping for a better performance from their own goal-kicker, Frans Steyn. The Springbok utility back went into last week's clash against the Brumbies with one of the best goal-kicking records in the competition, but proceeded to miss three attempts on goal.
It cost the Sharks in a tight encounter in Canberra, and another inaccurate showing may cost the tourists again in a close battle in Christchurch. The Sharks need Steyn to bounce back.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 14, Sharks 4, Draw 1
In Christchurch: Crusaders 10, Sharks 0, Draw 1
McCAW'S STATS THAT MATTER
12 – The number of tackles he made against the Reds in round 13
45 – The number of tackles he's made in 2014 (in 280 minutes)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willie Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 George Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo ,10 Frans Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Tera Mtembu, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, (c) 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Heimar Williams.
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images