The Sharks will look to make home ground advantage count when they host the Crusaders at Kings Park on Friday.
The Sharks will look to make home ground advantage count when they host the Crusaders in Friday's blockbuster Super Rugby clash at Kings Park.
The visitors are just one log point adrift of the Sharks and they will look to end their South African safari on a high in Durban.
The home side have won four from five thus far this season, while the Crusaders are chasing their fourth victory on the trot – a far cry after losing the opening two.
All three of the Crusaders' wins have all been against South African opposition – the Bulls (41-19), Kings (55-20) and Stormers (19-14) – with their latest triumph achieved without the likes of All Black stars Kieran Read, Dan Carter and Israel Dagg.
It just goes to show the depth the Crusaders have in their squad – Tom Marshall (Dagg's replacement) used his acceleration as a valuable assist in the lead-up to Matt Todd's try, Luke Whitelock showed he is a player of genuine talent at number eight and fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal followed the game plan perfectly when he repeatedly kicked into space in foreign territory.
More of the same will no doubt be expected from coach Todd Blackadder when his young team enter the 'Shark Tank', where they will be missing two more All Blacks in the form of Corey Flynn (eye injury) and Owen Franks (ribs) whilst wing Johnny McNicholl has been ruled out for the season.
The Sharks, who hammered the Rebels 64-7 in their last outing at home before a bye last weekend, are leading the South African conference and are anticipating a tough match against the Kiwi giants.
While the Crusaders' defence is not going to be quite as hospitable of that of the Rebels, who allowed the Sharks in for 10 tries, John Plumtree's troops will look to deliver a strong attack that got them such reward in that match.
The Crusaders attacked the Stormers at their strong points last weekend, targeting their vaunted scrum and line-out and emerging with points victories in both areas.
Plumtree said his players had to be aware of the threat the Crusaders could pose at set pieces which was at least equal to the threat of their fast-paced attacking style.
“The Crusaders' skill levels are really high, their backs and forwards handle the ball well, so our defensive plan is going to have to be very accurate,” he said.
“The breakdown is also going to be huge and we need to be competitive there against a team like the Crusaders who are able to hold onto the ball for long periods of time.”
Looking at the line-ups, the Crusaders have made three changes naming Andy Ellis at scrum-half, Adam Whitelock on the right wing and Ben Funnell at hooker in place of the injured Flynn.
The Sharks have also shuffled their backline, naming Francois Steyn at full-back and moving JP Pietersen to the left wing to replace Lwazi Mvovo who has a hand injury while Odwa Ndungane starts on the right wing. In the pack, Jannie du Plessis will start at tighthead prop in place of Wiehahn Herbst.
The two teams last met in 2011 in the play-offs when the Crusaders won 36-8, securing a place in the semi-finals.
Prediction: Tough one! Two very good teams, both enjoying some good form with so much resting on the outcome of this game… Sharks by five!
Sharks: 15 Francois Steyn, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Riaan Viljoen, 22 Louis Ludik/S'bura Sithole.
Crusaders 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Telusa Veainu, 22 Israel Dagg.
Date: Friday, April 5
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 19.10 (17.10 GMT; 06.00, Saturday, April 6 NZ time)
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)