Planet Rugby

Preview: Sharks v Highlanders

17th July 2014 17:47

Share:

Malakai Fekitoa Highlanders SHarks 2014

Attacking threat: Malakai Fekitoa

The Sharks will be carrying the hopes of a nation as they look to salvage South Africa's Super Rugby season in their play-off against the Highlanders at Kings Park on Saturday.

It's been 11 years since South Africa last failed to produce a semi-finalist and after a dismal season for the four other teams from the Republic, the Sharks must now fly the flag alone.

While the media, the bookies and most fans have the newly-crowned SA Conference champions as heavy favourites, Jake White will not need to remind his team that the last time the Highlanders were in Durban, the hosts were on the receiving end of a hiding.

Indeed, the men from Otago are the only team to cross the KwaZulu-Natalians' tryline four times this year. In fact, they are the only team this year to deny the Sharks a solitary championship point in any of their 16 games.

That loss on home soil, back in April, is significant because the Sharks were totally outplayed that day in a four-tries-to-none drubbing that highlighted the limitations of White's conservative gameplan, now referred to in Australia as 'Jakeball.'

It sparked an impressive reaction from White's team as they went on a successful tour directly afterwards, but the way in which the Highlanders cut the normally rock-solid Sharks defence apart will not be quickly forgotten.

Of course, that's all history now. If the Sharks muscle up like they did at Newlands last week, the Highlanders' famed attacking threat will get shut down.

That is the gist of how this game is lining up - the Sharks' massive pack trying to strangle the life out of the Highlanders all-action approach.

White has underlined the fact that play-offs rugby is usually very different to the league stages.

"I find it encouraging that so many of the players in the Sharks team have had experience of playing Test rugby," said the former Springbok coach on Thursday.

"It's going to be like a Test match, and we almost have a Test team at present. The matches from now on will be like Test matches.

"Because of the pressure that comes with play-off rugby, there will be less running from the 22, fewer chip kicks, and of course because there is no four try bonus point on offer that also means teams tend to take fewer risks."

The World Cup-winning coach makes a valid point as the Highlanders team is very short of players with big-game experience.

While this will be the third year since the expansion of Super Rugby from 14 to 15 teams in 2011 that the Sharks have made the top six, the Highlanders feature in the knock-out stages for the first time in 12 years.

Only Ben Smith and Aaron Smith have played a significant amount of rugby at the highest level and while Malakai Fekitoa, Nasi Manu and Shane Christie have been sublime all year, it remains to be seen how the likes of Lima Sopoaga and Ged Robinson - who start in key positions - will cope with the pressure.

In stark contrast to their hosts, the Highlanders defence has been frail, with 52 tries leaked in 16 games compared the just 22 by the Sharks.

The match in Durban also features the team which look after their possession the best - the Sharks average 17 minutes and 32 seconds per game - against the team with the least amount of time in possession of the ball - the Highlanders average only 14 minutes per game.

Whatever the result, a game involving the Highlanders is sure to feature plenty of points. As much as they're likely to leak points, they are incredibly difficult to keep at bay.

Fekitoa and the two Smiths in particular have torn defences apart all year. They will be the focus of the Sharks' defensive efforts and White will have stressed the importance of not giving them time and space.

The Sharks are rightly considered favourites but White summed up the situation perfectly in the build when he admitted that "anything can happen on the day."

"Last year the Brumbies beat the Cheetahs and then the Bulls away to advance to the final. So all the talk about home ground advantage and experience being what it is all about might mean anything because a team can buck the trend on a given day," he added.

"In the Fifa World Cup the home team, Brazil, lost a semi-final 7-1. Who would have anticipated that?"

Form: The Highlanders are coming off the back of consecutive defeats to the table topping Waratahs and Crusaders. They have lost four of their last five games, although they collected four bonus points in those games. The Sharks' 34-10 victory over the Stormers last week saw them return to winning ways having lost back-to-back South Africa derbies in their previous outings. The Sharks have won six out of eight home games this season having lost to the Highlanders in April and the Stormers in May.

Previous results:
2014: Highlanders won 34-18 in Durban
2013: Highlanders won 25-22 in Dunedin
2012: Sharks won 28-16 in Durban
2010: Sharks won 30-16 in Dunedin

Prediction: If their previous meeting was the only indicator of form, then the Highlanders would be the outstanding favourites. But. The Sharks were probably caught out for being overconfident that day and have since shown that, when the chips are down, their big boys come out on top. Sharks by six points.

The teams:

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 S'bura Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (capt), 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 JP Koen, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Tom Franklin, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 Gareth Evans.

Date: Saturday 19 July
Venue: Kings park, Durban, South Africa
Kick-off: 17.05 local (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper, Cobus Wessels

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Super Rugby
Saturday , July 26
Waratahs vs Brumbies19:40
Crusaders vs Sharks19:35
More Super Rugby fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Super Rugby
Saturday , July 19
Brumbies 32 - 30 ChiefsBrumbies vs Chiefs Report
Sharks 31 - 27 HighlandersSharks vs Highlanders Report
Saturday , July 12
Crusaders 34 - 8 HighlandersCrusaders vs Highlanders Report
Reds 3 - 34 WaratahsReds vs Waratahs Report
Lions 60 - 25 CheetahsLions vs Cheetahs Report
Stormers 10 - 34 SharksStormers vs Sharks Report
Friday , July 11
Blues 8 - 11 ChiefsBlues vs Chiefs Report
Brumbies 47 - 25 Western ForceBrumbies vs Western Force Report
Bulls 40 - 7 Melbourne RebelsBulls vs Melbourne Rebels Report
Sunday , July 6
Waratahs 44 - 16 HighlandersWaratahs vs Highlanders Report
Saturday , July 5
Crusaders 21 - 13 BluesCrusaders vs Blues Report
Western Force 30 - 20 RedsWestern Force vs Reds Report
Stormers 16 - 0 BullsStormers vs Bulls Report
Cheetahs 27 - 20 SharksCheetahs vs Sharks Report
Friday , July 4
Chiefs 24 - 16 HurricanesChiefs vs Hurricanes Report
Lions 34 - 17 Melbourne RebelsLions vs Melbourne Rebels Report
More Super Rugby results
International Match
Saturday , June 28
South Africa 55 - 6 ScotlandSouth Africa vs Scotland Report
More International Match results
Super Rugby
Hurricanes 16 - 9 CrusadersHurricanes vs Crusaders Report
Waratahs 39 - 8 BrumbiesWaratahs vs Brumbies Report
Western Force 14 - 40 BluesWestern Force vs Blues Report
Friday , June 27
Highlanders 29 - 25 ChiefsHighlanders vs Chiefs Report
Melbourne Rebels 20 - 36 RedsMelbourne Rebels vs Reds Report
More Super Rugby results
International Match
Saturday , June 21
Australia 39 - 13 FranceAustralia vs France Report
South Africa 31 - 30 WalesSouth Africa vs Wales Report
New Zealand 36 - 13 EnglandNew Zealand vs England Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Bath00
2Exeter00
3Gloucester00
4Harlequins00
5Leicester Tigers00