Preview: Sharks v Crusaders

Date published: April 3 2015

The Sharks will be eager to continue with their recent winning form when they take on the Crusaders in Durban on Saturday.

The home side battled to a 15-9 victory over the Western Force last weekend but if previous games between them and the seven-time champions are to be used as a barometer, then this weekend's clash will not be a low-scoring affair.

The Sharks’ heaviest defeat ever, in terms of losing margin and points conceded, was against the Crusaders when they lost 77-34 in 2005.

However, the men from Durban won the corresponding fixture by 58-26 way back in 1996, which to this day is still the most points ever conceded by the Crusaders in one match.

The Sharks don’t have a great record against the Crusaders – their win record against the Cantabrians sits at four from 19, or 21 percent, which is slightly lower than the average for all South African teams of 26.6 percent.

The Crusaders will be desperate to finish their tour to South Africa on a high after their previous match against the Bulls ended in a 31-19 defeat.

They have, once again, made a slow start to the competition, but showed in their 57-14 thrashing of the Cheetahs in Round Six that when they are on song there are few teams that can live with them.

Sharks boss Gary Gold expects a tough assignment for his charges this weekend.

“The Crusaders are a fantastic team, loaded with All Blacks," he said. "They have not won this competition as many times as they have by accident. They can never be taken lightly and we all know what a dangerous side they are when they hit their straps.

“It's fantastic to play against a team of this quality; every team wants to be measured against the best. We are confident with our group of players and are excited about the match-up this weekend.”

The last time these two met: The Crusaders were in a rampant mood and secured a 38-6 victory in last year's semi-final in Christchurch, as the seven-time champions dominated from start to finish and outscored the Sharks by five tries to none.

Players to watch: Springbok tearaway Marcell Coetzee has been in terrific form for the Sharks and is the tournament's joint-highest try-scorer with four tries. Coetzee's game is not just about scoring tries and he's also superb on defence and one of the leading foragers at the breakdown in the competition.

The Crusaders' All Blacks full-back Israel Dagg has impressed with some solid performances for the seven-time champions in recent weeks. Dagg's ability with ball in hand is well known and he could prove to be a handful for the Sharks' defence if he manages to get up to speed.

Team news: The Sharks have been boosted by the return of Springbok trio Marcell Coetzee, Cobus Reinach and Patrick Lambie and the latter will also captain the side in the absence of regular skipper Bismarck du Plessis, who is still serving a suspension which means Kyle Cooper continues at hooker. Coetzee comes in for Renaldo Bothma while Reinach and Lambie take over from Conrad Hoffmann and Frans Steyn, who is also suspended.

The Crusaders have made seven changes to their run-on side. In the pack, Wyatt Crockett replaces Joe Moody at loosehead prop while Nepo Laulala takes over from Owen Franks at tighthead. All Blacks captain Richie McCaw drops down to the bench while Matt Todd starts in the number seven jersey. Dan Carter has returned home for the birth of his second child which means Colin Slade starts at fly-half and Ryan Crotty shifts from outside to inside centre while Kieron Fonotia wears the number 13 jersey. David Havili makes his first start for the Crusaders on the right wing.

Form: After a slow start, where they lost three of their four matches, the Sharks are on a high after beating the Cheetahs, Chiefs and Western Force.

The Crusaders' form has been inconsistent throughout the tournament so far. They came off second best to the Bulls last weekend after they put the Cheetahs to the sword in Round Six. Before that secured victory over the Lions, after they were thrashed by the Chiefs. Their campaign started with a loss against the Rebels but they bounced back in Round Two with a win over the Highlanders.

Prediction: This will be a closely contested match but like last week against Force, the Sharks will claim a narrow win. Sharks to win by three points!

Previous results:

2014: Crusaders won 38-6 in Christchurch (semi-final)
2014: Sharks won 30-25 in Christchurch
2013: Sharks won 30-25 in Durban
2011: Crusaders won 36-8 in Christchurch (play-off)
2011: Crusaders won 44-28 at Twickenham

The teams:

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie (c), 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20. Renaldo Bothma, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Waylon Murray.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 David Havili, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Richie McCaw, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.

Date: Saturday, April 4
Venue: Kings Park Stadium, Durban
Kick-off: 15:00 local (13.00 GMT, 02.00 NZST, 00.00 AEST)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Ben Crouse (South Africa), Rodney Bonaparte (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)