The Sharks will be keen to keep themselves in the hunt for top spot in the South African Conference when they host the Chiefs on Saturday.
Currently just seven points adrift of the pace-setting Lions, it’s incredible to think the Durban outfit could finish with a home quarter. The reason for our surprise is that they’ve won just four games so far in 2018, but such is the situation in the Conference, it may happen.
What will give them confidence of keeping the pressure on the Lions is that they have fared very well against New Zealand franchises this season, beating the Highlanders and Blues. Their other clash with a Kiwi side saw them lose by just one point to the Hurricanes in Napier.
When the teams were released Robert du Preez would have been pleased to see the absence of Chiefs playmaker Damian McKenzie from the squad as it will be his brother Marty at 10. There is no question a XV with Damian strikes fear into any opposition so the Sharks will be happy.
The Chiefs are also without the likes of Nathan Harris, Brodie Retallick and Anton Lienert-Brown, who have returned home to the All Blacks.
What may, however, concern Du Preez is the fact the Sharks have beaten the Chiefs just once in their last seven meetings. But, that more recent form against New Zealanders – the Sharks have won four of their last seven against Kiwis – and the fact they are at home is a major boost.
In the Chiefs’ corner is the fact they have won five of their last six matches in South Africa, including their last three in a row; never before have they gone on a longer winning streak in the nation. They’re also in a fight for the play-offs, currently sitting in sixth spot.
There is therefore a great deal riding on this result, which should add to the spectacle as sides jostle to be in the best position before the June international break.
There’s no doubt though it’s the Sharks, who are favourites with the bookmakers, who would feel a loss more, but with the Chiefs missing the spine of their side this weekend there’s no doubt they come into this match under difficult circumstances.
The last time the teams met: The Chiefs made it six wins in the last seven meetings between the sides when they won 24-22 in New Plymouth in 2016. Seta Tamanivalu’s early try was backed up by Michael Leitch while Aaron Cruden slotted 14 vital points to edge the Sharks, whose tries came via Kyle Cooper, Garth April and Chiliboy Ralepelle. Garth April kicked seven points as they fell just short at Yarrow Stadium.
Players to watch:
For Sharks: Expect a busy shift in the loose from dynamic hooker Armand van der Merwe, who will be crucial to the Sharks’ cause in Durban. Used more of an impact man at the Lions behind Malcolm Marx, his move to the Sharks is giving him greater chances to start games and he’ll be desperate to prove a point to a watching Rassie Erasmus, especially with Marx and Bongi Mbonambi injured. He’ll cause the Chiefs bother.
For Chiefs: Given a start after his impressive impact off the bench last weekend, Shaun Stevenson takes the number 15 shirt. Such a bright rugby player who can make something out of nothing, Stevenson’s try against the Stormers was top drawer and with no Damian McKenzie in the squad, the Chiefs will look for flashes of brilliance from elsewhere, with Stevenson set to be the go-to man and a threat in broken field.
Team news: Sharks head coach Robert du Preez has kept changes to a minimum, with Philip van der Walt over the knock to the face he took against the Highlanders and returns to the team, in place of Jacques Vermeulen.
There is rotation at scrum-half for Louis Schreuder and Cameron Wright, likewise Lwazi Mvovo who swaps with Makazole Mapimpi on the wing.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have made seven changes to their team as Nathan Harris, Brodie Retallick, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown return home.
In the forwards, Liam Polwart starts at hooker for Harris, Tyler Ardron moves to lock in place of Retallick and the impressive Pita Gus Sowakula gets a start in the number eight jersey.
In the backs, Charlie Ngatai moves into centre for Lienert-Brown and Shaun Stevenson starts at full-back after a bright cameo off the bench last weekend.
Replacement player Matt Matich is named in the reserves and could make his debut for the Chiefs and Luteru Laulala will take the number 22 jersey after linking up with the team this week.
It’s also an exciting game for powerful prop Sosefo Kautai who is named on the bench for the first time this season after making four appearances in his debut campaign last year.
Form: The Sharks’ inconsistent form this year leaves them with a record of four wins, six losses and one draw. Ordinarily that would leave them out of the race for a play-off spot but with the Lions dropping their pace, the side from Durban are just seven points off the summit. Their most recent games saw them beat the Stormers, then also defeat the Highlanders before that mini-run was ended last week at the Bulls.
Despite a recent wobble the Chiefs are still in a good position for a play-off spot with seven wins and three defeats. Two of those losses came over their past four games but they got back to winning ways last week when they beat the Stormers in Cape Town. That win was crucial.
Prediction: With so many of the Chiefs’ star players absent, this is an ideal time for the Sharks to face them. Sharks to win by 15 points.
2016: Chiefs won 24-22 in New Plymouth
2015: Sharks won 12-11 in Durban
2013: Chiefs won 37-29 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 37-6 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 18-12 in Durban
2011: Chiefs won 15-9 in Hamilton
2010: Chiefs won 19-18 in Durban
2009: Sharks won 22-15 in Hamilton
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Makazole Mapimpi
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Charlie Ngatai (c), 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Liam Messam, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Luteru Laulala, 23 Toni Pulu
Date: Saturday, May 19
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)