The Sharks will be looking for the win rather than the bonus point when they host the Sunwolves in a crucial match at Kings Park on Friday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Sharks must be favourites to win the fixture against the Japanese newcomers. They must be favourites to finish third in the South African group and qualify for the quarter-finals.
A win without a try-scoring bonus point will take the Sharks six log points clear of the Bulls. If the Sharks beat the Sunwolves on Friday, the Bulls are out of the playoff race.
The Bulls have disappointed this season. They had the advantage of featuring in the weaker Africa 1 conference (where they faced Australian rather than New Zealand teams). They were handed a relatively favourable schedule – more so than that of the Sharks.
And yet, here they are, in the final round of the conference stage, needing another result to go their way in order to qualify for the knockouts.
The Sharks aren't going to win the Super Rugby title this season. Even if they beat the Sunwolves this weekend, they will travel in the quarter-finals. The best they can hope for in that scenario is that the match is staged in South Africa.
Gary Gold may not be looking that far ahead. On Friday, the Sharks coach should instruct his charges to play the percentages and secure the win.
The Sunwolves have looked to play the game at pace in their debut season of Super Rugby. They've scored some stunning tries. They are not a great side by any stretch, but they are not to be taken lightly.
When the more established teams have underestimated the Sunwolves, when they've embraced a less structured approach in an attempt to rack up a big score, they have come unstuck. The Stormers went into the match against the Sunwolves in Singapore with the wrong attitude. In the end, the Cape side was fortunate to escape with a 17-17 draw.
That said, the Sunwolves have copped some heavy defeats in 2016. Their scrums, lineouts and defence have been routinely exposed by the smarter teams.
The Sharks must look to attack the Sunwolves in these areas on Friday. They must aim to build scoreboard pressure through the boot of Garth April.
It would be a mistake to play expansively from the outset. A run-from-all-corners approach would only play into the Sunwolves' hands.
The Japanese side has plenty to play for in this the last match of their debut season. The Sunwolves will be chasing a first-ever Super Rugby win against a South African team. They will also be looking to avoid the wooden spoon on the overall log. The visit to Durban will be a historic first for the Sunwolves.
The Sharks should back their scrum to subdue that of the Sunwolves, even though the likes of loosehead prop Beast Mtawarira will be rested for this clash. They should back their defence to stifle the Sunwolves' attack, and they will expect April to kick his goals.
There may be opportunities to play a more attacking brand of rugby later in the contest, once the win has been secured. However, the Sharks would do well to keep their primary objective in mind from the outset.
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the teams' first meeting
STATS AND FACTS
– The Sharks have won six of their last nine games against teams from outside South Africa.
– The Sharks have also won their last three home games, outscoring their opposition by a combined 111-25.
– The Sunwolves have lost each of their six away fixtures and endured a cumulative scoreline of 97-332.
– The Sunwolves have recorded the worst tackle success rate this season (79%) while the Sharks have boasted the third best (87%).
– Only two players have scored more tries than Akihito Yamada (nine) this season, although both players (Matt Faddes and Israel Folau) have played four games more than the Sunwolves winger who has played just 10 games.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Sharks||Joe Pietersen (72)||Paul Jordaan, Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen (4)||Willie le Roux (593)||Jean-Luc du Preez (127)|
|Sunwolves||Tusi Pisi (105)||Akihito Yamada (9)||Riaan Viljoen (822)||Ed Quirk (132)|
Sharks – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen (c), 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Tera Mtembu, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stefan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch/Pat Lambie, 23 Heimar Williams.
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Hajime Yamashita, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Mifiposeti Paea, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura,10 Yu Tamura (c), 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Taiyo Ando, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Faatiga Lemalu, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Futoshi Mori, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Naohiro Kotaki, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Ryohei Yamanaka, 23 Kentaro Kodama.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Photo: Steve Haag/ Gallo Images