Can the Sharks beat the odds?

2014-05-17 00:00

BELIEF, character and history are just some of the words that Jake White would have been drumming into his Sharks players ahead of their visit to Christchurch to face the in-form Crusaders today.

The clash at AMI Stadium was always going to be the toughest assignment for the director of rugby when he may have glanced over their regular season Super Rugby schedule at the start of the campaign.

It is a city in which they have never won in eight attempts and the clash could not have come at a worse time. The Sharks simply have to win if they want to make sure of consolidating their position at the table summit.

They hold a slender one-point lead over the Chiefs, who do have a bye, but defeat, coupled with victory for the Brumbies on their trip to Bloemfontein to face the Cheetahs, could bump them off the number-one position.

Furthermore, the Crusaders are in hot form after winning five matches in a row to soar into fourth spot overall, while the Durbanites have lost two of their last three games, including a 16-9 reverse to the Brumbies in Canberra last week.

There is no doubt it will take a colossal effort to beat the seven-time champions, who have also not been beaten by a South African side in New Zealand since 2001.

“The Crusaders are always contenders, and the Sharks haven’t won in Christchurch; we all know that,” White stated this week. “But records are there to be broken.

“They have lost two games at home already this season. So it’s not impossible, but we need to make sure we’re up for it.”

Optimistic words from White, who has also played up the underdog tag for his team, whose solitary win on tour thus far had come against the Rebels (22-16) on the opening weekend.

Their five wins in a row have come against the Lions (29-7), Cheetahs (52-31), Chiefs (18-17), Brumbies (40-20) and most recently in Queensland at the Reds (57-29).

In Christchurch, meanwhile, only two South African teams have beaten the Crusaders in the history of Super Rugby, the Cats, who are now known as the Lions, in 2001 and the Bulls in 1996.

“South Africans generally like to be the underdogs, but what I am excited about is with those records, you can sketch your name into the history books if you win this game,” a bullish White said.

“That doesn’t just excite South African rugby players, it excites every rugby player to be the first team to have won there in a long, long time. I’m sure that will be something in the back of the players’ minds, that they get an opportunity to give it an 80-minute crack.”

There were three new faces whom White introduced this week in rookie Etienne Oosthuizen, Tera Mtembu and SP Marais, while Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel and Odwa Ndungane dropped out of the starting XV.

Further room for optimism was the fact that three All Blacks are missing from the Crusaders team. Israel Dagg and Andy Ellis are rested with captain Kieran Read out through injury, leaving coach Todd Blackadder to name Tom Taylor, Willi Heinz and Dominic Bird in the side.

Among the areas White will be hoping to improve is the kicking of flyhalf Frans Steyn after his rare off game against the Brumbies. The former Springbok boss has also admitted they will try to attack more in a bid to improve their poor try count, while they need also to cut out the penalties or face being punished by the brimming Colin Slade.

Teams:

Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty (captain), 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

Substitutes: 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 (captain) 1. Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper 17. Dale Chadwick 18. Lourens Adriaanse 19. Ryan Kankowski 20. Keegan Daniel 21. Charl McLeod 22. Tim Swiel 23. Heimar Williams

Fixtures:

Today: 9.35 am - Crusaders v Sharks, 11.40 am - Reds v Melbourne Rebels, 5.05 pm - Stormers v Western Force, 7.10 pm - Cheetahs v Brumbies

Tomorrow: 8.05 am - Waratahs v Lions.

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