Who will reign?

2015-03-20 00:00

THE Sharks take on a completely different animal this evening when they host the Chiefs in Durban. After playing five consecutive South African derbies, Gary Gold’s charges have to switch their mindset to dealing with a very confident attacking side in the form of Dave Rennie’s Chiefs. The visitors are without the enigmatic Sonny Bill Williams, who is out with a concussion, but the Sharks will have to nullify four select players if they are to win at home tonight.


Frans Steyn vs Andrew Horrell

Frans Steyn

The Springbok World Cup winner is starting to find his feet after two rounds back in Super Rugby and he looked dangerous against the Cheetahs last weekend. Steyn is visibly leaner and has been hungry for work in the past two weeks — which was evident when he mercilessly hunted down the Stormers’ Cheslin Kolbe two weeks ago. He got the Sharks’ ball rolling last weekend by scoring their first try, which gave them the confidence they so desperately needed. This weekend he will be looking to do more of the same and he will have to be sharp defensively in particular against a very potent attacking visiting side. On attack, Steyn needs to straighten up a Sharks backline that has been slightly lateral in the past two rounds.

Andrew Horrell

Horrell comes in at 12 in the absence of the concussed Sonny Bill Williams and he is an apt replacement according to coach Dave Rennie, who talked up the replacement earlier this week when Williams’s availability was in question. Although Horrell hasn’t seen much action this season, he is very much a reliable character and also has an educated boot, which will no doubt take some pressure off Aaron Cruden. His experience at centre and fullback will come in handy, but he is tasked with containing Steyn, who is known for his powerful runs. Horrell will look to unleash his outside backs, while giving his side some front foot ball from set pieces. He will no doubt have a busy night as both teams will look to penetrate the midfield.


Odwa Ndungane vs James Lowe

Odwa Ndungane

The Sharks and Springbok veteran has been a welcome addition to the Sharks backline since Sbura Sithole was injured in the first round. Always a reliable customer, Ndungane said this week that he was relishing his chance to contribute to his team once again and his experience cannot be underestimated in tight games like tonight’s. He has his work cut out for him containing James Lowe and the rest of the Chiefs’ outside backs, but Ndungane said he was excited about the challenge. The Chiefs are likely to use the boot a bit more tonight, and the Sharks back three will have to be in sync to nullify the threat. A cool head in the form in Ndungane will help settle fullback SP Marais, who will be under the spotlight tonight.

James Lowe

The exciting winger was on fire last weekend in the Chiefs win over the Stormers and he is the leading line-breaker in the competition according to the Vodacom Stats app. He is second on the metres run list as well, which speaks volumes of his work rate. He has been a big ball carrier for the Chiefs this season in a backline that has featured Williams and the equally dangerous Tim Nanai-Williams, who is out with a broken finger. Lowe has the Sharks slightly worried, and Gary Gold admitted that his kickers must be accurate or else Lowe and company will punish them. In notoriously slippery, humid conditions Lowe will have a tougher time running riot, but with a sniff of space he could be the danger man for the Chiefs tonight.


Pat Lambie vs Aaron Cruden

Pat Lambie

The Sharks and Springbok pivot has been in outstanding form this season and really has been his side’s general in terms of giving them direction with both his boot and commands. Lambie has kicked exceptionally well out of hand and often boots the ball when the Sharks are in their own half — highlighting their emphasis on playing rugby in the right parts of the field. He will have to be spot-on tonight, as the Chiefs thrive on counterattacking play. Once they are in the right parts of the field, Lambie needs to marshall his troops to ensure they score when opportunities arise, as the Chiefs are a sound defensive unit. It is the battle of the ensuing Springbok and All Blacks flyhalves, and Lambie will relish taking on the talented Aaron Cruden.

Aaron Cruden

The All Black first five-eight has a season on par with his opponent Lambie. However, the main difference between the two is their tendency to kick. The Vodacom Stats app shows that Cruden is far more likely to pass and run the ball compared to Lambie. So far this season, Cruden has kicked 19 times from hand compared to Lambie’s 46. Conversely, Lambie has made more running metres, but one must keep in mind that Cruden has Sonny Bill Williams on his shoulder — and who wouldn’t pass to the offload king? Despite the stats, Cruden is likely to kick far more tonight in the humid conditions as they make handling very difficult. He will have to step up and his own form with the boot and ball in hand could be the difference between his team winning and losing.


Marcell Coetzee vs Liam Messam

Marcell Coetzee

This guy just seems to run on fumes. The Springbok flank has been monumental for the Sharks this season. His never-say-die attitude and low regard for his own well-being have been part and parcel of his game for the past few years and he needs to produce another bulldozing performance tonight. Coetzee’s dogged attitude was instrumental in the Sharks win over the Cheetahs last week. He played with fervour and purpose, which seemed to jade the hosts last weekend. However, he faces a slightly different challenge this weekend against a very astute attacking unit. Coetzee will look to play towards the ball and look for turnovers to starve the Chiefs of quick ball. Meanwhile, he will be an attacking weapon for the Sharks.

Liam Messam

The Chiefs captain spoke earlier in the week about the challenge South African teams pose to New Zealand sides. Aside from saying our local boys are bigger than the Kiwis, Messam highlighted the amazing atmosphere in South African stadiums. Dealing with both will be challenging, but Messam will be more focused on chopping down the Sharks’ big ball carriers while sniffing out possible turnovers. Alongside blindside flank Sam Cane, Messam will be looking to outplay the Sharks in the loose and they certainly have the firepower to do so. The Chiefs captain will have to lead the way, and a heavy dose of aggression will be the best way to tame a fired-up Sharks pack.

Sharks team (15-1):

SP Marais, Odwa Ndungane, JP Pietersen, Francois Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Renaldo Bothma, Marcell Coetzee, Marco Wentzel, Mouritz Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (c), Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Daniel du Preez, Conrad Hoffmann, Andre Esterhuizen, Waylon Murray.

Chiefs team (15-1):

Damian McKenzie, Bryce Heem, Seta Tamanivalu, Andrew Horrell, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden, Brad Weber, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane, Liam Messam (c), Michael Fitzgerald, Matt Symons, Siate Tokolahi, 2. Hikawera Elliott, Jamie MacKintosh

Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna, 18. Mitchell Graham, Michael Allardice, Johan Bardoul, Augustine Pulu, Tom Marshall, Hosea Gear.

Today’s Super Rugby fixtures

Crusaders vs Cheetahs - 8.35 am.

Bulls vs Force - 5.05 pm.

Sharks vs Chiefs - 7.10 pm.

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