The Sharks must win the collisions and keep the Hurricanes halfbacks on the back foot at Kings Park on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Hurricanes thrashed the Lions 50-17 in Johannesburg last week. The men from Wellington scored seven tries in an impressive attacking performance. That said, many of those tries were scored from turnover ball, which says much for the aggressive nature of the Hurricanes defence.
The Sharks boast the best defence in the 2016 Super Rugby tournament as far as points (156) and tries (15) conceded are concerned. Where they have come short this season is on attack. Overall, the Sharks have failed to strike the necessary balance between attack and defence.
The Sharks cannot beat the Hurricanes by defending for 80 minutes. They will need to take the fight to the New Zealanders in the early stages. They need to win territory and pressure the Hurricanes forwards and backs into making mistakes.
The battle at the collisions and breakdowns should be immense. That Hurricanes loose trio of Brad Shields, Ardie Savea and Victor Vito will be tough to contain. But if the Sharks can outmuscle these men at the gainline and stifle the Hurricanes at the breakdowns, they will force TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett onto the back foot.
When the Sharks have possession, they must make it count. When the Sharks hosted the Crusaders earlier this season, they did well to drive the Cantabrians back into their own territory. What the Sharks didn't do in that fixture was translate territory into points.
The Sharks have the tight five to win the set pieces this Saturday. What is less certain is whether their loose trio and halfback combinations can win their respective battles.
The decision-making of Michael Claassens and Garth April will be crucial. April has proved an accurate goal-kicker in recent matches. Indeed, the Sharks may have lost the match against the Highlanders in Dunedin if not for the flyhalf's accuracy off the tee. What the youngster still needs to show is that he can take charge in general play, and that he can deliver a consistent performance.
April will be targeted by the Hurricanes this Saturday. What will make the flyhalf's job easier is a dominant performance by the Sharks pack. If the hosts cop a beating at the gainline, April will be under pressure and his inexperience may exacerbate the situation.
The Sharks do have some big-name players on their bench. If the Sharks fall behind early in the contest, director of rugby Gary Gold may be forced to introduce Jean Deysel and Pat Lambie sooner rather than later.
But if the hosts manage to stay in touch with the Hurricanes for 60 minutes, these players could have a key role to play in the final quarter. Lambie, who is returning from a serious shoulder injury, will be keen to make a statement regarding his fitness and ability to close out big contests.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Sharks 10, Hurricanes 8, Draw 1
In Durban: Sharks 6, Hurricanes 3
STATS AND FACTS
– The Sharks have won four of their last six matches against the Hurricanes, though the New Zealand side has won two of the last three.
– The Sharks return home to where they have lost their last two games. The last time they lost more than two consecutive home games was across the 2009 and 2010 campaigns.
– The Hurricanes have won their last eight games against teams from South Africa, more than double their next longest streak (three games).
– The Sharks have scored the second fewest tries this season (17) behind the Force (11), but they have also conceded the fewest tries (15).
– Beauden Barrett has converted more tries than any other player (27) and is one of only four players to have scored more than 100 points.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Sharks||Joe Pietersen (72)||Lwazi Mvovo (3)||Willie le Roux (502)||André Esterhuizen (94)|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (115)||Julian Savea (5)||Beauden Barrett (487)||Ardie Savea (97)|
Sharks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c)
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Odwa Ndungane.
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reg Goodes.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ngani Laumape, 23 Jason Woodward.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Rodney Bonaparte (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
The Money Man's betting tips
Photo: Marty Mellville/Getty Images