JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the big Vodacom Super Rugby game at Kings Park on Saturday.
The Sharks failed a big test last week when they went down to the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. There were a couple of setbacks with Cobus Reinach and Pat Lambie sustaining serious injuries in the first half, but the Sharks didn't lose the game because of their backline. They were outplayed at the lineouts and breakdowns, and will need to show an improvement in both facets this week.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has picked a big pack for this weekend's battle at Kings Park. The Waratahs will feel that they can match the Sharks physically, and that Michael Hooper can disrupt the Sharks at the breakdown just as Bulls openside Deon Stegmann did last week.
The Sharks will need to produce a clinical showing at ruck time if they're going to make inroads into the Waratahs defence. They will also need to be disciplined if they're going to stop the Waratahs pack from obtaining momentum and bringing Kurtley Beale into the contest.
Israel Folau has been in outstanding form for the Waratahs this season and no doubt they will be less dangerous for his absence. However, the Sharks defence needs to maintain the pressure on Bernard Foley and Beale this Saturday. That 10-12 axis has been the source of many a Waratahs try in 2014, and will create further opportunities this weekend if they are granted the space.
The Waratahs will be confident about their chances given the Sharks' lengthy list of injuries. However, there is still enough in that Sharks pack to keep the Waratahs honest, and the Sharks still possess a great goal-kicker in Frans Steyn.
It will be close, but the Sharks should edge it at home.
Prediction: Sharks by 5
The Sharks look as intimidating as ever on the forwards front, but injuries to key backline players have forced a reshuffle that leaves them looking decidedly ordinary. With Lwazi Mvovo at fullback, the inexperienced Fred Zeilinga replacing Pat Lambie at flyhalf, and Charl McLeod coming in at scrumhalf, the spine of the team is compromised.
Tactically they will be restricted, particularly from a kicking point of view, and may opt to keep it among their forwards for extended periods of time. Zeilinga's physical constitution will make him a target for the Tahs. They would also no doubt have noticed S’bura Sithole's struggle to come to terms with the defensive demands of playing outside centre at Super Rugby level and will look to exploit this.
All this will, of course, mean little if the Sharks' heavies front in the manner they are capable of. Their performance against the Bulls was sub-standard, although it would be remiss not to acknowledge the Pretoria side's efforts in rousing themselves to a level of performance I and many other more astute observers thought was beyond them. Jake White would surely have detailed his expectations of them clearly, and if they respond in the manner he envisions, I can't see the Tahs living with them.
Nullifying Michael Hooper's influence at the breakdown will be key. The carriers and cleaners have to work in unison on this task. Like the Sharks, the Tahs have built their success on powerful and erosive phase play, and blunting their flow and tempo will be a cornerstone of the Sharks' success.
The tourists will, however, miss Israel Folau dearly. He leads or is among the leaders in a number of key performance areas on attack and his absence is likely to be telling.
Prediction: Sharks by 12
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.
Waratahs – 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rob Horne, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Photo: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images