Sharks must protect possession

The Sharks need to show a greater appreciation for possession if they are to overcome the Crusaders at Kings Park on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

The Durban-based team remains the only unbeaten side in the competition, and compared to the trials and tribulations of last year, this season’s start has been poles apart.

If one recalls, it was the Sharks' 52-10 thrashing at the hands of the Crusaders last season that served as the catalyst that set the coastal side off on a disastrous six-match losing streak.

And while the Sharks are in a completely different space as the two teams get set to go into battle once again, the pain of that defeat and the appreciation of just how dangerous the Crusaders can be still remains pertinent.

The Sharks will be thrilled to be back at home after two weeks on the road, having first picked up an impressive win over the Stormers before playing out to a draw against the Bulls last weekend.

However, in both matches, the Sharks came off second best in the possession and territory stakes, and their poor ball retention would certainly have been some cause for concern.

The Sharks have readily acknowledged that they particularly failed to perform to their desired standards in the first half against the Bulls, with errors, poor handling and ill-discipline preventing them from finding any rhythm to their play.

It’s these sort of errors that simply won’t go unpunished by the Crusaders, with the seven-times champs remaining ever dangerous from turnover ball, while their offloading ability will test the Sharks’ much-improved defence in different ways.

The Sharks have been superb at the breakdown this season, where they’ve won a host of turnovers and currently rank as the No 1 side in this facet of play, but as always their discipline and decision-making will need to be spot on.

Notably, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has made a number of changes to their starting pack for Saturday's clash, and named six forwards on the bench in what is a clear indication that they are expecting a battle of attrition up front.

The Sharks, in turn, have reinstated what appears to be their first-choice front-row combination, and the contest at scrum time should certainly be a fascinating aspect of the clash.

The Sharks will also be fully aware that they can look forward to a bye next weekend, so the prospect of heading into that break unbeaten will be another considerable incentive.

It’s hard to pick a winner for Saturday’s clash, but if the Sharks can protect possession, deny the Crusaders opportunities from broken play and maintain their sound defence, then they could well deliver a bit of revenge at Kings Park.

Overall: Crusaders 16, Sharks 5, Draw 1
Durban: Crusaders 5, Sharks 4

– The Sharks have won three of their last five home matches against the Crusaders. However, the Crusaders won the last clash by 42 points, the biggest margin in the history of the fixture in South Africa.
– The Sharks remain unbeaten in their last seven fixtures, and a win or draw against the Crusaders would equal the team’s longest unbeaten run in Super Rugby history.
– The Crusaders have won 16 of their last 20 matches against the Sharks, although three of their losses in that time have been in South Africa.
– The Crusaders have won 93% of their lineouts so far this season, the most of any team in the competition and they are one of only two teams (the other being the Chiefs) to lose fewer than one lineout per match on average.
– The Sharks remain the only team yet to concede a second-half try this season, although the Crusaders have scored seven of their 13 tries in the second stanza.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Sharks Joe Pietersen (51) Willie le Roux, Odwa Ndungane (2) Willie le Roux (266) Marcell Coetzee (44)
Crusaders Richie Mo’unga (50) Richie Mo’unga (3) Richie Mo’unga (248) Tim Boys (28)
Sharks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c).
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Michael Claasens, 22 Garth April, 23 Odwa Ndungane.

Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Tim Boys, 22 Mitchell Drummond, 23 Ben Volavola.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)

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Photo: BackpagePix

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