JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the big Vodacom Super Rugby game at Kings Park.
The Sharks have won their past three games by comfortable margins, but will need to be more clinical this Saturday if they're going to beat the Reds.
A sharper showing at the breakdown will be required, as they look to stifle the Reds pack and limit the attacking space of halfbacks Will Genia and Quade Cooper. The Sharks will be favourites at scrum time, although the Reds will test the hosts at the lineout. This represents a great challenge, even more so now that No 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit has been ruled out with a knee injury.
The Sharks need to upset the rhythm of the Reds, and may view the lineout contest as an opportunity. They should also be looking to secure their own ball in order to set that powerful rolling maul. Marcell Coetzee, Willem Alberts, and Ryan Kankowski have all shone as individuals during the initial stages of this tournament, but it's going to take a collective effort to overcome the Reds at the tackle.
There are some outstanding creative players and finishers in both sets of backlines, but make no mistake, the strongest pack on the day will lay the platform for victory. My money's on the Sharks' heavies having the decisive say.
Prediction: Sharks by 7
The Sharks have looked the most complete side in the tournament, with the Waratahs and Chiefs following closely, but that's not to say they don't have areas that need refinement.
While their attacking game is notable, their success has largely been built on formidable defence. They've conceded only three tries to date, with that success rooted in their powerful gainline and breakdown contest. Given that the Reds rely so heavily on a quick recycle and high tempo attack, this is likely to be the defining facet of play for the hosts.
When the Reds' forwards are blunted, Quade Cooper and Will Genia become significantly less effective. In the domino effect this will reduce the potency of their outside backs, including dynamic fullback Aidan Toua. Toua is among the tournament leaders for metres made and defenders beaten. Starving him and the likes of Rod Davies possession, or granting them that possession deep in their territory through tactical kicking, will go a long way to securing victory.
From an attacking perspective I don't see the Sharks shifting from their methodical and highly effective multi-phase approach that has crafted the space and time for their backs to exploit.
Prediction: Sharks by 12
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 TBC, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 Jaco van Tonder.
Reds – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Dom Shipperley.
Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images