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Preview: Sharks v Waratahs

27th March 2014 17:48

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Wycliff Palu Waratahs v Sharks 2012

Powerhouse: Wycliff Palu

Having set the early pace, the Sharks face another test of their title credentials as they host an in-from Waratahs outfit at Kings Park on Saturday.

The 'Tahs have become something of a bogey side for the Durbanites, winning six of the past eight clashes between these sides.

In fact, since 1998 the Sharks have lost 11 matches against the men from New South Wales and won only four. That is their worst record against Australian opposition. Only against the Crusaders do the Sharks have a poorer record.

Judging by the way Saturday's two opponents have been playing, it should be a high-scoring affair. The Waratahs (32.5) and Blues (30.8) are the only sides to average more points per game than the Sharks (29.8) thus far this year.

But a massive points tally will not be the priority for the Sharks as they look to bounce back to winning ways after conceding their first defeat of the year at Loftus last week.

After the armwrestle in Pretoria, this should be a much more open game. Both teams have selected flankers in the second row as Jacques Potgieter and Willem Alberts are set to face off in the key battle up front.

The Sharks have scored more tries (8) on the first phase of play than any other side this season and with four loose-forwards in the pack now that Alberts has shifted to lock, their very heavy unit should be more mobile.

The Waratahs have come up with more clean breaks (9.8) and offloads (16.3) per game than any other team this season but are missing their main weapon, Israel Folau, this weekend. The Wallaby full-back has scored more tries, made more more offloads and clean breaks than any other player this season so the significance of his absence cannot be underestimated.

The visitors have made a number of changes to their side but the core 10-12 playmaking combination of Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale remains intact.

The hosts have been hit hard by injuries with half-backs Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach added to the loss of Pieter-Steph du Toit. If you combine the positional switches to the four personal changes, there are 10 alterations to the team that faced the Bulls last week. But if the Sharks are true title contenders, then the strength in depth of their squad must shine through.

And depth they have. Keegan Daniel, last year's Sharks Currie Cup-winning captain, is in the squad for the first time this season and Jake White has grand plans for Lwazi Mvovo, who is a surprise selection at full-back ahead of SP Marais.

We'll take White's comparisons between Mvovo and Percy Montgomery with a pinch of salt, but the move is an indication of the hosts' intention to use their pace out wide.

"The team as it has been announced will be the one that takes the field on Saturday, which is a pleasing change for us," said White on Thursday.

"From a morale point of view, it is important not to react too badly to last week's defeat. It was our first loss, and it is unlikely any team will go through an entire Super Rugby tournament unbeaten. We are back at home, we are unbeaten at home and we want to try bounce back from last week with a good performance.

"It's a new week, a new opportunity and we have a bye next week, so there is a lot to play for and no reason why we don't give everything this weekend.

"We will take whatever win we can, but I would like to do it in style. We have the four quickest guys in the province playing for us at the back, so I am confident we can do that."

"The Waratahs are a good team, they have a lot of Wallabies in their squad and they have been on a good roll so far in the competition. Like us, they've only lost just one game and they have a really well-balanced team.

"Of the three games they've won, they've scored bonus points in all three victories, so they can obviously score tries. That means it's going to be a tough game for us. If you look at their team on paper, they're a strong, well-balanced side."

Previous results: 2012: Waratahs 34-20 Sharks in Sydney
2011: Sharks 26-21 Waratahs in Durban
2010: Waratahs 25-21 Sharks in Sydney
2009: Sharks 12-16 Waratahs in Durban

Prediction: The teams have each won three of their seven encounters in the Shark Tank, with one draw. Despite a sketchy track record against the 'Tahs, this Sharks team looks to be a the complete package. The home pack should edge it in the favour of the Sharks by five points.

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.

Waratahs: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rob Horne, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: tbc

Date: Saturday, March 29
Venue: Kings Park Stadium, Durban
Kickoff: 17.05 local (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Marius Jonker (South Africa)

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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624