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History is against the Sharks

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The Sharks, unbeaten but often unconvincing in their six matches to date, are up against their greatest test of the season when they play the Hurricanes in a Super 14 match in Wellington on Saturday.


A look at the Sharks record against the Hurricanes shows how difficult it will be. While the two sides have each won six of their 12 clashes, the Sharks have suffered three big losses in their last three matches in the New Zealand city, and their last victory in 2004 was by a single point.


But that is the past. The Hurricanes’ four wins have come against the lesser sides in the competition. They gave the Crusaders a good scrap last weekend before going down 20-13 and also lost their first match of the season against the Waratahs.


The Sharks aim for the unthinkable – to win five from five on a tour itinerary that only South African sides have to endure.


They travelled via Australia for their two matches in New Zealand, following which they have to return to Australia for two matches – and then they have to return to New Zealand again for their last tour match against Crusaders.


But they’re good travellers, coach Dick Muir maintains, and a good start will be of paramount importance to the Australasian tour’s success and the home semifinal that the Sharks are aiming for.


The Sharks, one feels, have to a large extent been playing as individuals in their six matches to date. On the occasions that they did put it together, they were really good. More of that will be needed now that the better sides lie in wait.


To continue their run, they’ll have to curb their kicking, and have less reliance in counter-attack. Phase ball must be utilised more often.


They have the speed, and especially the loose forwards, to make this a great platform for attack. The battle up front will be interesting – especially in the chase for the loose ball, with Ryan Kankowski growing in stature every time he takes the field and Keegan Daniel showing size is not everything.


Jacques Botha is the perfect foil for these two youngsters.


* The Cheetahs, who play the Reds in Bloemfontein on Saturday, must by now doubt their ability to win after their string of close defeats. But they also know they can create try-scoring opportunities.


After all, they are the top try-scorers of the South African sides. The Cheetahs have also leaked the most tries, although their defence has improved in their last two outings.


They’ll have to keep this aspect of their play up, for the Reds are a free-running lot with an obvious attitude that they have little to lose. For the Cheetahs, there is the good news their captain Juan Smith is on the bench, from where he’ll be given 30 minutes or so playing time.


They also have Springbok lock Barend Pieterse back in their starting line-up, and more experience also comes into the side with Springbok Hendro Scholtz starting with the two outstanding young loose forwards Duanne Vermeulen and Heinrich Brussow.


Everything considered, the Cheetahs have an excellent chance to break their winless streak against a side that is doing well compared to last year, but cannot be considered one of the competition’s best.


* The Waratahs are at home to the Blues. The Sydney-based side have not had a great season, mainly because they don’t have a backline of the same quality as their forwards. Whether that will be good enough against a side that started off well and then stuttered somewhat, will have to be seen.


The Blues, if they put it together, should win, if only because they have better playmakers and their ability to create opportunities.


Saturday’s matches (SA times, home teams first):


Hurricanes v Sharks, 8.35am;
Waratahs v Blues, 11.40am;
Cheetahs v Reds, 5pm


Sapa – Super14.com

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