Preview: Hurricanes v Sharks

Date published: May 8 2015

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The Hurricanes will be looking to claim their tenth win of the Super Rugby season when they face an out of sorts Sharks in Wellington on Saturday.

Not since 2012 have the 'Canes hit double figures and even that year their tenth victory arrived in the final fixture of the regular-season, which illustrates just how well Chris Boyd's pace-setting charges are performing at the moment.

They face a Sharks side on a dismal run of four-straight losses, which is their worst streak since May 2013 and does not look like stopping this weekend.

What a disappointing season it has been for the Durban side, with fans riled by their performances and lack of assurance from their management. That changed this week when chief executive John Smit published an open letter to fans, before a move for Waratahs flanker Jacques Potgieter was announced.

Papering over the cracks or a step in the right direction? Supporters will feel it's the former as the Sharks was been devoid of ideas this season, relying on their driving maul as a first option. While that is firing nicely, it is hardly going to put bums on seats at Kings Park.

The Hurricanes meanwhile are flying high right now, with Ma'a Nonu in sizzling form alongside familiar centre partner Conrad Smith. We could go on singling out players but there are too many to praise, as their stocks continue to rise.

Boyd, who is without Beauden Barrett, has also chosen to rest two All Blacks due to the agreement with the NZRU and while the absence of TJ Perenara and Julian Savea is a sizeable one, Chris Smylie has a low error count to go with a good rugby brain while Matt Proctor would walk into many other outfit's XVs. James Marshall meanwhile can unlock defences.

Proctor too alongside the likes of Nehe Milner-Skudder should continue to cause their Wellington visitors issues, with the Hurricanes having forced the most missed tackles so far this season (an average of 22.7). Add that to the Sharks topping the missed tackle average at 22.5 and the home fans have every right to feel confident of win number ten on Saturday.

The last time these teams met: It was Round Two in 2014 when these two sides last faced off in Durban and it was the Sharks who came out on top, winning 27-9 in a hard-fought victory. Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo scored on that day while Pat Lambie kicked 17 points off, with the 'Canes responding through the boot of Beauden Barrett and Marty Banks.

Players to watch: Two players coming into the XV, Matt Proctor and Blade Thomson, are real talents and could cause the Sharks plenty of bother on Saturday. Proctor has added to his running game in the last twelve months and don't be surprised if he crosses for a try.

On the opposite side the return to action of Francois Steyn should shore up what was a leaky midfield defence last Friday. Meanwhile, there's a big chance for Lionel Cronje at fly-half, who is in ahead of Fred Zeilinga. He must kick and direct well.

Team news: In-form duo Julian Savea and TJ Perenara will sit out the game as part of an agreement to rest All Blacks. Matt Proctor comes in on the wing to replace Savea, with Chris Smylie in for Perenara at nine. Smylie is joined in the half-backs by James Marshall, who replaces injured fly-half Beauden Barrett. Victor Vito and Blade Thomson start at eight and six respectively while Chris Eves replaces Reggie Goodes.

Francois Steyn and Renaldo Bothma are named by the Sharks at inside centre and blindside flank respectively while Jannie du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis start together for the first time in six weeks. Stefan Ungerer and Lionel Cronje are the half-back pairing while Lwazi Mvovo moves into the full-back jersey in place of Odwa Ndungane, who shifts to the right wing after a tough evening in Dunedin.

Form: Contrasting is the word to sum up the Hurricanes and Sharks' results so far this term. The 'Canes have nine wins from ten games while the Sharks are struggling with just four all season. In fact, they are on a losing streak that stretches back four matches to Round Eleven. The pressure is subsequently mounting on John Smit, Gary Gold and company.

Prediction: Despite the loss of their key trio, it's hard to see anything but a home win here. Hurricanes by 16!

Previous results:

2014: Sharks won 27-9 in Durban
2012: Hurricanes won 42-18 in Wellington
2011: Sharks won 40-24 in Durban
2010: Sharks won 29-26 in Wellington
2009: Sharks won 33-17 in Durban

The teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Matt Proctor, 10 James Marshall, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Blade Thomson, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Reggie Goodes, 19 Callum Gibbins, 20 Brad Shields, 21 Frae Wilson, 22 Otere Black, 23 Rey Lee-Lo.

Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Kyle Cooper, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andre Esterhuizen, 23 Waylon Murray.

Date: Saturday, 9 May
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT, 17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST)
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Michael Lash
TMO: Aaron Paterson

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