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Preview: Crusaders v Sharks

15th May 2014 20:14

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Tendai Mtawarira Beast 2014 Sharks

Milestone: Beast Mtawarira hits 100

The table-topping Sharks are in Christchurch aiming to become the first South African side to beat the Crusaders in New Zealand since 2001.

It looks like a tough ask, not least because the Sharks' record against the seven-time champions is not one to write home about with just three wins, all in Durban, from their previous 17 matches.

Of course, coaches and players alike will tell you that what happened in previous years means very little and only current form really counts. Unfortunately for Sharks fans the harsh reality is that in spite of their position on the Super Rugby table, Jake White's troops have not fired on all cylinders in recent outings.

A thrashing on home soil at the hands of the Highlanders, followed by an unconvincing win over the Rebels and last week's borefest against the Brumbies have failed to convince anyone of their title credentials as the impressive form of the early rounds has waned, particularly since the loss of Pat Lambie.

By contrast, the Crusaders are on an upwards curve. The absence of concussed skipper Kieran Read has been offset by the return of a refreshed Richie McCaw and some sterling form from fly-half Colin Slade as Todd Blackadder's side has gone from strength to strength to put together a five-game winning streak to jump from 13th on the table to fourth.

After a dismal start to their campaign - when there were question marks over Blackadder's future - the men in red are now within striking distance of the top of table. They are the hottest side in the competition at the moment following their demolition of the Reds in Brisbane last weekend.

Obviously it would be foolish to write the Sharks off, they're not perched at the top of the pile for nothing, but unless they make a massive improvement on last week's performance, they'll be on the wrong end of a morale-sapping result.

Not only will another below-par showing for the Sharks fuel the Bulls' belief that the SA conference is still up for grabs but it will make next week's trip to the Blues a high-pressure game.

With Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira celebrating their milestone 100th caps in black and white, there will be no lack of motivation.

"We knew this period of the season was going to be really tough, the Brumbies are the top Australian side and got to the final last year," said White.

"The Crusaders are always contenders and the Sharks haven't won in Christchurch.

"The nice thing is that we're still in control of our own destiny and there's a lot more rugby to be played."

Form: The Crusaders have won their past five matches, and seven of their last eight, to climb to fourth on the table. The Sharks lead the overall standings but have scored just one try in their last three matches and are coming off a 16-9 defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra.

Previous results:
2013: Sharks won 21-17in Durban
2011: Crusaders won 36-8 in Nelson
2011: Crusaders won 44-28 at Twickenham
2010: Crusaders won 35-6 in Christchurch
2009: Crusaders won 13-10 in Durban

Prediction: The history books and recent form point clearly in one direction. Crusaders by ten points.

The teams:

Cruasaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willie Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 George Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.

Sharks:15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo ,10 Francois Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Tera Mtembu, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, (c) 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements:16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Heimar Williams

Date: Saturday, May 17
Venue: AAMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 10.35 local (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)

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South African Conference
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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks1650
2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624