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Preview: Sharks v Highlanders

24th April 2014 11:00

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Ben Smith Highlanders v Sharks SR 2013

Dangerman: Ben Smith

The Sharks will be keen to continue their impressive start to the season when they host the Highlanders in Durban on Saturday.

Jake White's side are yet to lose in Durban after six games there this season and their only defeat from eight matches was suffered against the Bulls in Pretoria in Round Six.

Such form sees the Durban-based outfit sitting at the top of the table and as this is their last match before heading off on their tour to Australasia they will be determined to deliver a superb display to their home crowd.

The Sharks currently have 31 points and are six points ahead of the Brumbies who are second on the table. A victory over the Highlanders could see them pull further away from the Brumbies or third-placed Chiefs, who clash in Canberra on the same day.

The Sharks' favourable draw has played a major part in their success and back-row Keegan Daniel is keen for the team to build on their superb start.

"I think every team sets out at the start of the season to win the competition," he said.

"That certainly was ours as well and I think we've had a very good start.

"We knew we had a favourable draw starting off with a number of home games and it was crucial for us to win as many of those games as we could.

"We're still trying to find our feet in terms of the way [coach] Jake [White] wants us to play."

A player keen to make an impact is Sharks centre Paul Jordaan, who returns to action after spending six weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury. Jordaan goes head-to-head with with Highlanders midfielder Malakai Fekitoa - who has been one of the tournament's best players this season - and their battle could be one of the highlights of this encounter.

The Highlanders have gone about their business quietly this season after a dreadful campaign last year. They are currently in eighth spot in the overall standings with 19 points from seven matches and their four victories - over the Blues, Hurricanes, Rebels and Bulls - is already one more than the three wins they attained in 2013's entire competition.

Coach Jamie Joseph has unearthed some talented youngsters like Fekitoa and Richard Buckman in the back-line and Liam Coltman up front but they will rely heavily on experienced All Blacks duo Ben Smith and Aaron Smith to lead the way.

They suffered a setback when veteran lock Brad Thorn tore his bicep in the victory over the Bulls, which hasd put his season in doubt and ruled him out of their tour to South Africa but the Dunedin-based outfit have solid cover in Jarrad Hoeata, Joe Wheeler and Josh Bekhuis who are all in the matchday squad this weekend.

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

Prediction: The Sharks will be determined to finish off on a high, before leaving on their overseas trip, and should have too much firepower for the men from New Zealand's south island. Sharks to win by 12 points!

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel, 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 Ryan Kankowski, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 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 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 John Hardie.

Date: Friday, April 25
Venue: Kings Park Stadium, Durban
Kick-off: 19.10 (17.10 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624