Preview: Sharks v Rebels

Date published: May 28 2015

Winning back the hearts of their fans back will be top of the Sharks' priority list when they host the Rebels in Durban on Friday.

It's been a miserable season for a side that started the campaign with high hopes of being in the mix at the business end of the tournament.

But, as it stands, the Sharks are going to struggle to finish inside the top ten, even if they win big this weekend.

For all his good intentions, Sharks CEO John Smit's promises of better days ahead will mean nothing without the troops delivering on the field and for fans in Durban, the humiliation of that thrashing at the hands of the Crusaders in Round 8 will not soon be forgotten.

So it's time for redemption.

Having endured a tough tour overseas, Gary Gold's team will be hoping that they will be able to carry over the momentum gained from last week's hard-fought win over the Red as they play in front of their home crowd for the first time since mid-April.

The Rebels have never won in South Africa and they've never beaten the Sharks, but before any eggs are counted at Kings Park, it's worth noting that the Australian side currently sit five points clear of their hosts in the overall standings, despite having played one less game.

The Sharks have won ten of their last eleven matches in Durban against Australian opposition, but the Rebels work rate is sure to present the hosts with a challenge in what is set to be a game of contrasting styles.

The Rebels have made the most carries per game in Super Rugby this season, averaging 123, while the Sharks' 88 have them ranked 14th out of 15.

Meanwhile, the Sharks have kicked from hand a tournament-high 26 times per game while only the Waratahs have kicked less often than the Rebels (17.2).

The Rebels were probably guilty of trying to play too much rugby on a wet surface in Cape Town last week, and coach Rebels coach Tony McGahan says his players have to adjust to South African tactics if they are to end their terrible losing streak in the Republic

"We need to..respect the environment we are playing in," McGahan said on Wednesday.

"You need to recognise what they like – they like physicality, they like the scrum, the maul and they kick a lot.

"They don't play a lot of rugby and we have to understand what they are trying to do and be aware of that.

"We can't be caught up playing rugby in the wrong parts, we probably got caught out three or four times through the high ball exiting our end, which led to scrums, which then led to penalties.

"It's minimal rugby of one phase, kick, then one phase, kick, and it probably took us a little while to match up to that sort of thinking."

The last time these team met: Frans Steyn's boot was the difference between the sides as the Sharks won 22-16 in Melbourne in Round 12 last year. The teams scored a second-half try apiece but Steyn's five first-half penalties proved crucial in the end.  It wasn't pretty but the team coached by Jake White got the job done with a JP Pietersen try around the hour mark proving the killer blow in a game littered with errors.

Players to watch: Springbok loose forward Ryan Kankowski makes a long-awaited return to the Sharks starting XV having missed their tour, and he is the kind of player who can bring some spark to the Sharks' one-dimensional approach.

Fijian flyer Sefanaia Naivalu was missing from the Rebels XV last week due to concussion but is back in the starting XV, although midfield instead of the wing. Lightning quick, with a personal best time of 10.50 over 100 metres, he has become an integral part of the Rebels' arsenal. He has beaten 20 defenders and scored four tries this season.

Team news: Kankowski will start at number eight with Renaldo Bothma switching to flank as Marcell Coetzee is rested. On the other flank, Willem Alberts is subject to a late fitness test. Mouritz Botha replaces injured Stephan Lewies in the second row. Andre Esterhuizen replaces the injured Frans Steyn at inside centre.

Naivalu and prop Toby Smith are back having recovered from injuries and are among five inclusions to the starting lineup which also include the injection of Wallabies Luke Burgess and Laurie Weeks, and flanker Colby Fainga’a. Naivalu's switch to 13 allows Dom Shipperley to return to the right wing.

Form: The Sharks ended a six-match losing streak with a 21-14 win on the road to the Reds last week. The Rebels are coming off back-to-back losses away to the Reds and Stormers having gone down 31-15 in Cape Town last week, but they beat the Blues and Chiefs at home in the proceeding weeks.

Predictions: Back on home soil and in a positive mood, you have to fancy the Sharks to get the job done. Sharks by ten points

Previous results:
2014: Sharks won 22-16 in Melbourne
2013: Sharks won 64-7 in Durban
2011: Sharks won 34-32 in Melbourne

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo , 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S Sithole, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts / Etienne Oosthuizen , 6 Renaldo Bothma, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Etienne Oosthuizen / Khaya Majola, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Heimar Williams

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Sefanaia Naivalu, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Jordy Reid, 23 Bryce Hegarty.

Date: Friday, May 29
Venue: Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 19:10 local (03:10 AEST, 05:10 NZST, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant referees: Rodney Boneparte, Ben Crouse
TMO: Marius Jonker