Stephan Lewies will have an important role to play at the lineout when the Sharks battle the Blues, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Sharks lost their key lineout forward, Pieter-Steph du Toit, at the beginning of the season. Since then, they've suffered further losses in the second row that have necessitated Willem Alberts, normally a loose forward, moving into the No 4 position.
And yet, somehow they have produced some impressive displays at this set piece, with one of their least experienced players calling the shots. To date, Lewies has won the most lineout ball for the Sharks, while both he and team-mate Ryan Kankowski are among the best in the tournament for lineout steals from an opposition throw (second only to the Brumbies' Ben Mowen).
The lineout has proved one of the Sharks' strengths in 2014, and they will certainly look to play to that strength on Friday. They also boast a strong kicking game, and you can bet on them playing for territory against what is a dangerous Blues side.
The Sharks should look to kick for the corners and apply the pressure at the lineout. They have the players in Lewies and Kankowski to disrupt the Blues' set piece, and they have the finishers out wide capable of translating turnovers into points.
A pragmatic approach should yield a victory for the Sharks. A less structured strategy will only play into the Blues' hands. The Auckland side favour a running game, and will pose a threat even though they are missing the elusive All Blacks utility back Charles Piutau.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Blues 8, Sharks 13
In New Zealand: Blues 5, Sharks 5
LEWIES' STATS THAT MATTER
51 – The number of lineouts he's won in 2014 (Rank 2)
6 – The number of lineouts he's stolen in 2014 (Rank 2)
772 – The number of minutes he's played in 2014 (Rank 71)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Peter Saili, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Albert Nikoro.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Tera Mtembu, 6 Jacques Botes, 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: John Davidson/Photosport