Bismarck du Plessis' scrummaging and breakdown expertise could be the difference when the Sharks host the Chiefs on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The big news is that Sonny Bill Williams has been ruled out of the clash at Kings Park. The Chiefs No 12 took a knock to the head in the game against the Stormers last week, and is yet to make a full recovery. His centre partner, Tim Nanai-Williams, is another who won't feature.
In the absence of these players, the Sharks' Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen will be hot favourites to win the midfield battle. That said, the biggest contest was always going to be up front, whether Williams started or not.
The Chiefs were outplayed at the set pieces last week. Their scrum struggled against that of the Stormers. Their lineout woes were such that they eventually resorted to taking quick throw-ins so as to avoid the Stormers' contest.
Unsurprisingly, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made a couple of changes in the front row for this week's clash against the Sharks. Jamie Mackintosh and Siate Tokolahi will start at loosehead and tighthead respectively.
The Sharks will be favourites to dominate the set pieces. They were on fire in Bloemfontein last week, with Du Plessis in especially good form. You'd also expect a front row including veteran Springboks such as Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis to get the better of their opponents.
Lock Marco Wentzel has been brought into the starting side to replace the injured Pieter-Steph du Toit. Wentzel will ensure the Sharks stick to their structures and use the lineout as a weapon. The more set pieces there are this Saturday, the happier the Sharks will be.
Not that they will be afraid to compete at the breakdown. In Du Plessis, they have one of the best ball-stealers in the game. The Sharks defence has been good of late, and Du Plessis' ability to score important turnovers will give them a further edge against the Chiefs.
The Stormers attempted to play the game at pace last week, and paid the ultimate price. The Cape side's misdirected kicking was also punished. You'd think teams would have learned by now that if you are going to kick on that dangerous Chiefs back three, you have to kick accurately.
The Sharks need to take these lessons to heart. They need to win the set pieces, but they also need to slow the game down. The performances of Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie will be under scrutiny. If they kick poorly, the Chiefs may well record another big win in South Africa.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Sharks 9, Chiefs 10
In Durban: Sharks 5, Chiefs 4
STATS AND FACTS
– The Chiefs are aiming to win on consecutive weekends in South Africa for just the third time; a feat they last managed in April 2012.
– The Sharks’ Marcell Coetzee is the joint-top try-scorer this season, and the top-scoring forward after crossing the whitewash four times in five games.
– The Chiefs’ James Lowe has made the most clean breaks (11) in Super Rugby this season. Nobody else is yet to hit double figures.
– The Hamilton-based side has averaged the most offloads per game (18) this season.
– Sonny Bill Williams has made 13 of those offloads and the most of any player in the competition so far.
– The Sharks will be without Super Rugby’s top lineout winner this season, Pieter-Steph du Toit, who had won (28) and stolen (four) more than any other player so far this year.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Sharks||Pat Lambie (78)||Marcell Coetzee (4)||SP Marais (362)||Marcell Coetzee (55)|
|Chiefs||Aaron Cruden (54)||James Lowe (3)||James Lowe (498)||Sam Cane (52)|
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Conrad Hoffman, 22 André Esterhuizen, 23 Waylon Murray.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Johan Bardoul, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Tom Marshall, 23 Hosea Gear.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images