The Sharks have to limit the influence of Damian McKenzie if they are to have any hope of overcoming the Chiefs in New Plymouth on Friday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
McKenzie’s star has burned as bright as that of any Super Rugby player this season. His X factor on attack and dead-eye goal-kicking has played no small part in the Chiefs’ surge to the top of the Australasian group.
As illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, his attacking numbers are quite breathtaking. He’s made 105 carries (ranked second in the competition), 15 clean breaks (ranked third), beaten 36 defenders and made 621m (both ranked first). He is also the competition’s leading scorer of tries (seven) and points (120).
It’s pretty obvious then that the Sharks will have identified the diminutive fullback as one of the key dangermen who simply cannot be afforded the freedom of the park at the Yarrow Stadium on Friday.
Having said that, it’s not only McKenzie, but the entire Chiefs attacking unit that is set to provide the Sharks’ much-improved defence with arguably the sternest test of the season. McKenzie, Aaron Cruden and Seta Tamanivalu are just three of the Chiefs’ backline threats that the Sharks will have identified for extra special attention.
With the best attacking team in the competition coming up against one of the most successful defensive sides, it should certainly be an enthralling clash of styles.
Besides being prepared to face a multi-faceted attack, though, the Sharks will be desperate to finally get their own offensive game going. Last weekend, they played the majority of the match with a one-man advantage, but still failed to score a try against the Highlanders.
Nevertheless, the win would have done their confidence the world of good, and after ending a four-match winless streak, they’ll be determined to begin to express themselves a bit more with ball in hand.
Garth April will again start at flyhalf, and this will add an extra edge to the Sharks’ backline, while the experienced Michael Claassens needs to marshal proceedings with precision at scrumhalf.
Another win for the Sharks would well and truly resurrect their season, and while victory over the high-flying Chiefs has to be regarded as an unlikely prospect, it’s not completely beyond the realms of possibility.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Chiefs 10, Sharks 10
In New Zealand: Chiefs 6, Sharks 4
STATS AND FACTS
– The Chiefs have won five of their last six matches against the Sharks, although a one-point Sharks win in their last encounter snapped a five-game losing streak for the Durban-based side.
– Only once in the last seven fixtures between these teams has the final points margin been more than eight (37-6 win for Chiefs in 2012 Super Rugby final).
– The Chiefs have won their last three home matches against the Sharks and haven’t lost this exact fixture since round three of 2009.
– The Chiefs’ only loss from eight matches so far this season came when they last hosted a South African team (the Lions in round two).
– Six of the Sharks’ last seven matches have been decided by no more than an unconverted try, with a one-point win in their last game snapping a three-game losing streak.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Chiefs||Damian McKenzie (120)||Damian McKenzie (7)||Damian McKenzie (621)||Sam Cane (92)|
|Sharks||Joe Pietersen (72)||Lwazi Mvovo (3)||Willie le Roux (467)||André Esterhuizen (85)|
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sam McNicol, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Kane Hames, 19 James Tucker, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Sharks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Joe Pietersen, 23 Odwa Ndungane.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images