DURBAN – The Sharks have a golden opportunity to go unbeaten on their overseas tour when they tackle the hot-and-cold Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday (9.35am SA time kickoff).
The Durbanites will be hoping they bump into the clumsy Chiefs side that was recently beaten at home by the Lions rather than the flashy team that hammered the Bulls by 56 points in Pretoria earlier this season.
The lesson the Sharks will have learned from those two games of the Chiefs against their fellow South Africans is that their forwards are vulnerable.
And when brought to heel – as happened in the Lions game – their brilliant backs are nullified, but when those backs get clean ball, as was the case against the Bulls, they are devastating.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez would be thrilled with the (at least) 10-point haul for the tour that would be the reward for a Sharks win, but he says he’s already more than satisfied with taking six points from the games against the Waratahs and Crusaders.
Would Du Preez have taken six points in the bag if offered it pre-tour?
“I would have taken that, absolutely,” he said. “We know how tough it is to tour and how tough this competition is, so to beat the Waratahs for the first time in 19 years in Sydney (the last time was in 2000), that’s a great feat, as was the draw against the Crusaders, very nearly a win.
“We’re very pleased with where we are,” Du Preez enthused. “Defence shows the character in the team and the team spirit that exists.
“They’ve been immense, and I’ve said that from the word go. From the beginning of the year, I said we have a great plan both from an attacking point of view and on defence.
“Against the Crusaders, the boys showed how they care for each other; that’s the bottom line,” he said.
#TBT to the @CellC Sharks’ victory against the @ChiefsRugby last year.#OurSharks will be hoping to put on a similar performance once more on Saturday morning at 09h35 (SA time). #CHIvSHA #OurSharksForever pic.twitter.com/4CdUpE09oA
— The Sharks (@TheSharksZA) May 9, 2019
For this match, Du Preez has made a rotational change at inside centre, where Springbok Andre Esterhuizen gets a break and in comes Marius Louw.
In the second row, the hard-working Hyron Andrews returns for Ruben van Heerden; at No 8, Dan du Preez is given a rest after carrying a heavy workload this season, with Philip van der Walt moving to the back of the scrum and Jacques Vermeulen starting at blindside flank.
Akker van der Merwe has returned home from the tour with a shoulder niggle, with Fez Mbatha having joined the team earlier in the week to cover hooker.
The Sharks will have taken note that the Chiefs have won only one of their last five games played on home soil, and that the Sharks have won two of their last three Super Rugby games against the Chiefs.
They will now be looking to nail back-to-back wins against them for the first time since 2008/09.
Aphelele Fassi, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Marius Louw, Makazole Mapimpi, Curwin Bosch, Louis Schreuder (captain), Philip van der Walt, Jean-Luc du Preez, Jacques Vermeulen, Ruan Botha, Hyron Andrews, Coenie Oosthuizen, Kerron van Vuuren, Thomas du Toit.
Bench: Fezokuhle Mbatha, Mzamo Majola, John-Hubert Meyer, Tyler Paul, Luke Stringer, Cameron Wright, Robert du Preez, Kobus van Wyk.