Sharks must retain focus

The Sharks can’t afford any complacency as they look to come away with a bonus-point win over the Kings in Durban on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

At face value, this is a match that the Sharks should be expected to win comfortably. In recent weeks, the Durban-based side has begun to build some impressive momentum, while the Kings have still just managed the solitary win in the competition.

Yet it should be kept in mind that the Sharks have endured a gruelling schedule over the past month and a half. After coming unstuck against the Lions in Durban at the beginning of April, the Sharks headed off on a three-week tour to New Zealand where they faced top teams such as the Highlanders and Chiefs.

They then returned to Durban to play the high-flying Hurricanes before travelling all the way to Argentina for a physical encounter against the Jaguares.

Those who stayed up to watch that late game last Saturday will know that the Sharks once again spent plenty of time on defence (they’ve completed a whopping 1,392 tackles this season), while their training this week has been somewhat restricted after the long journey back home.

It’s no surprise then that director of rugby Gary Gold has made a few rotational changes to the team this week, particularly up front, with Lourens Adriaanse, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Dale Chadwick forming a new front row, while Etienne Oosthuizen returns to the starting lineup along with Jean-Luc du Plessis, who replaces the injured Jean Deysel.

In changes to the backline, Lwazi Mvovo comes back from a rest as Odwa Ndungane drops to the bench, while importantly, Michael Claassens has overcome an injury niggle and will take up his place at No 9.

The Sharks do have a much-needed bye next week, and it’s with this in mind that they’ll be determined to produce one more big effort to clinch a third successive win before the break.

The Sharks have done well to rebound from a mid-season slump and are now just two log points behind the Lions, albeit with a game in hand, while they’re currently occupying the third qualifying spot in the South African group.

If the Sharks can do the business against the Kings, they can then turn their attention to the highly-anticipated clash between the Stormers and Bulls, with the two teams from the Africa 1 conference separated by just three log points.

Ultimately, though, the Sharks just need to ensure they remain switched on against the Kings, who have begun to show signs of improvement over the course of the competition. To borrow some cricketing parlance, the hosts should look to first build an innings, take whatever points are on offer, and then push for the bonus point once the result is secure.

Overall: Sharks 3, Kings 0
In Durban: Sharks 1, Kings 0

– This will be only the fourth clash between these teams. The Sharks have won all three previous meetings by a combined 122-33 scoreline.
– The Sharks have won three and drawn one of their last five games against South African opponents, although they’ve not scored more than 18 points in any of their last three such fixtures.
– The Kings have lost their last three games on the trot, conceding 141 points in the process.
– The Sharks have been forced to make 127 tackles per game so far this season, the second most of any team in the competition, yet they still boast the third-best tackle success rate of any side (86%).
– The Sharks have averaged the fewest carries of any team this season (85.2 per game), while the Kings have gained the fewest metres on average (324).
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Sharks Joe Pietersen (72) Lwazi Mvovo (3) Willie le Roux (521) Paul Jordaan, André Esterhuizen  (113)
Kings Louis Fouché (61) Chris Cloete, Edgard Marutlulle (4) Shane Gates (358) CJ Velleman (115)

Sharks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie (c), 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 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Giant Mtyanda, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Garth April, 23 Odwa Ndungane.

Kings – 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Lukhanyo Am, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Luzuko Vulindlu, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Ntando Kebe, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Stefan Willemse, 5 Schalk Oelofse, 4 Steven Sykes (c), 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Martin Ferreira, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Justin Ackerman, 18 Tom Botha, 19 JC Astle, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Kevin Luiters, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Leighton Eksteen.

Referee: Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rodney Bonaparte (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa) team's SuperBru picks

Bulls vs Stormers

Lions vs Jaguares

Crusaders vs Waratahs

Chiefs vs Rebels

Force vs Blues

Reds vs Sunwolves

Photo: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images

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Craig Lewis