Preview: Waratahs v Sharks

Date published: May 15 2015

Two teams looking to prove a point clash in Sydney on Saturday as the Waratahs host the Sharks.

Sharks will be looking to end a five-match losing streak when they take on the defending champions at Allianz Stadium, a daunting prospect when one considers the Durbanites have not won in New South Wales in 15 years.

Indeed, the Waratahs have won their last seven home games against the Sharks. But if there is one side that seems to be ignoring the form book this year, it's the 'Tahs.

Inconsistent seem the most appropriate word to describe Michael Cheika's outfit in 2015. The only side to have managed to topple the pace-setting Hurricanes, they have also managed to lose to a team at the other end of the table – twice – following last week's defeat to the Force.

With five games left to save their season and a lot of ground to make up in the standings, the seventh-placed Waratahs realise they have no room for error. Hopes of a finish near the top are gone, the must now focus on willing the Aussie conference, and that starts with securing positive results in their home games.  

"At the moment we're just trying to win the conference," said veteran loose forward Stephen Hoiles, who gets a rare start this week.  

"We've been pretty open about not talking about winning the thing again. We didn't speak about it last year. It's certainly harder, everyone's after us, we've just got to improve mentally where we're at.

"We can't look two weeks ahead. You drop a game now and you're in a lot of trouble, so the Sharks – like last week – is the most important game of our season."

It's set to be a clash of contrasting styles since the Sharks have averaged the most kicks from hand kicked (25.3) this season while the Waratahs have produced the least, an average of 14.7. Just two sides have scored more opening quarter tries than the Waratahs (8), while the Sharks have scored the second fewest in the opening 20 (2).

It's been 15 years since the Sharks last suffered six straight defeats in a single campaign, and if that record is matched this weekend, the knives will be out more than ever for director of rugby Gary Gold.

Last week's performance against the Hurricanes showed signs of improvement however and the good news for fans in Durban is that they've managed to name an unchanged side for the first time this season.

The return of Bismarck du Plessis added an extra edge to the Sharks' game and Gold will be hoping for more of the same against a tough 'Tahs pack.
"They're a very physical team, probably the most physical Australian team," said Gold.

"We saw what the Force did to them on the weekend by matching them from a physical point of view, so that's the challenge for us.

"With the likes of Beale, Folau and Ashley-Cooper, they have some fantastic playmakers in their backline and a big strong pack. They move the ball well so we're really going to have to get our defensive shape right."

The last time these team met: Second-half tries from the Sharks forwards helped them to a 32-10 victory at Kings Park in Round 7 last year. A try-less, bad-tempered first-half came to an end with the Sharks leading 12-3. Bernard Foley's try in the dying minutes but it was too little, too late for the 'Tahs.

Players to watch: Blockbusting Waratahs wing Taqele Naiyaravoro has been dominating the headlines this week for a number of reasons. The monster wing is being compared to a young Jonah Lomu following his tackle-busting try against the Force last week. The Fiji-born powerhouse is now being tipped for a Wallaby call up that may trigger a get-out clause in the three-year deal he has signed with Edinburgh. Until now, Naiyaravoro hasn't been able to leave the Australia as he waited for his residency visa but that was finally been resolved this week so he has plenty to play for as he looks to book a place in the Aussie World Cup squad.

One man who may miss out on a place at the World Cup is Frans Steyn. His walkout from the Springbok camp last year looked to have ended his international career but calls in the Republic are growing louder for his outstanding talent to not be ignored. His battle with Kurtley Beale should be good to watch.

Team news: Cheika has made just one change to the 'Tahs starting XV as Hoiles comes in as a replacement for Sharks-bound flank Jacques Potgieter, who was ruled out with a chest injury. The Sharks matchday squad that lost to the Hurricanes last week is unchanged.

Form: The Waratahs have won seven of their 11 games this season. Last week's 18-11 loss to the struggling Force ended a three-game winning streak for the 'Tahs. The Sharks have just four wins from their 12 fixtures and have now lost five in a row.

Predictions: The signs points towards a low-scoring, tight fixture. The Waratahs' last four matches have yielded losing bonuses, while their last three have seen just 86 points scored in total. The Waratahs have a 75 percent win record at home against all visiting teams from South Africa (dating back to 1996). The Waratahs by less than seven.

Previous results:
2014: Sharks won 32-10 in Durban
2012: Waratahs won 34-30 in Sydney
2011: Sharks won 26-21 in Durban
2010: Waratahs won 25-21 in Sydney

The teams:

Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements (three to be omitted): 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Tala Grey, 23 Pat McCutcheon, 24 Brendan McKibbin, 25 Matt Carraro, 26 Peter Betham

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, May 16
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off:  19:40 local (21:40 NZST, 11:40 SAST, 09:40 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner, Will Houston
TMO:  George Ayoub