PREVIEW: Super Rugby, Round Eight - Part One
After a disappointing start to the season, the men from Durban burst into life with a commanding win over the Blues.
However, the very same Blues have – apart from a solitary good performance against the Lions – been rather ordinary.
The Sharks' staying power will be tested by form team of the competition, the Hurricanes.
We look at two other matches in this episode of our preview – the Sunwolves hosting the Waratahs and an appetising all-New Zealand derby when the Chiefs host the Blues.
We take a look at the weekend's first three matches!
Friday, April 6:
Hurricanes v Sharks
(McLean Park, Napier – Kick-off: 19.35; 09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
It may sound like a cliched answer, but the Hurricanes are not into claiming the favourites tag.
Star flyhalf Beauden Barrett is adamant the inform Hurricanes are a sure bet for the championship, despite being handily placed at the halfway stage is approaching.
From the humiliation of losing to the Bulls in Pretoria, the team have won four on the trot, including impressive performances against the Crusaders and Highlanders.
"The pressure we put on ourselves exceeds the external pressure, so we don't read anything into the external [favourites tag] stuff," Barrett told The Dominion Post.
"It's about us, each day at training, wanting to be better, being competitive and always looking to improve, so we don't buy into any of that stuff. Whether it's a loss or a previous win, we're just looking to get better each week."
Sharks coach Robert du Preez also had to rein in the enthusiasm after last week's impressive demolition of the Blues.
"After the disappointments of the first two weeks on tour, the boys were hurt, but they were desperate to get a first win on tour," Du Preez said.
"If there had been a lack of effort previously I would have been really worried, but that wasn't the issue.
"Against the Blues, the boys brought the effort and the accuracy, so it was much better and I was really pleased with that performance.
"We know this week will be tougher than last week, the Hurricanes are the number one team in New Zealand in my opinion.
"Our defence and discipline are going to be key."
2016: Hurricanes won 41-0, Wellington (preliminary play-off match)
2016: Sharks won 32-15, Durban
2015: Hurricanes won 32-24, Wellington
2014: Sharks won 27-9, Durban
2012: Hurricanes won 42-18, Wellington
Prediction: The Hurricanes have won three of their last five games against the Sharks, and will be looking for back-to-back wins against them for the first time since 2005/06. Indeed, each of the most recent six games between these teams has been won by the home side on the day. The Hurricanes have lost consecutive games against South African sides, the last time they lost more on the trot was from March 2010 to April 2011. The Sharks are the only side to make fewer than 100 carries per match this season (97). Ben Lam is the top try scorer this season, scoring eight in five appearances, after scoring just two in his first 12 games in the competition. The Sharks have the ability to beat the Hurricanes, but their remains doubt their consistency. The Hurricanes to win by 12 points or more.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Sam Henwood, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves.
Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Wes Goosen.
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Jacobus van Wyk.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)
Saturday, April 7:
Sunwolves v Waratahs
(Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo – Kick-off: 14.15; 05.15 GMT, 15.15 Australian Time)
The Sunwolves, coached by 2015 Super Rugby winning coach Jamie Joseph, have three Australians – Sam Wykes, James Moore and Ed Quirk – in their squad.
However, Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said they were preparing for the Sunwolves as though they were a Kiwi team', such has been the influence of the former Highlanders coach on the Japanese franchise.
One of the Sunwolves' biggest threats, though, is their mystery quality, Gibson said, with the Sunwolves changing their side often.
"The Sunwolves have been a team that has been changing their roster a lot and trying to analyse them that's been the difficulty," he said.
"They've been comfortable in playing a large number of their squad, so that's been difficult for us."
Simon Cron, the Waratahs' forwards coach, said they have learned some important lessons from their 24-17 win over our interstate rivals the Brumbies away from home last week.
"[We have learned] that we are getting better in key areas, but we still have a lot of room for improvement," Cron said.
The Waratahs are looking to secure a third Australian conference win against the Sunwolves.
"The Sunwolves, under Joseph, is a very disciplined and well-coached side who stick to their structures," Cron said.
"We will need to compete in every facet, be on top of our game and play for 85 minutes."
2016: Waratahs won 57-12, Tokyo
Prediction: The Waratahs blazed to a 57-12 win against the Sunwolves in Round 15, 2016, the only previous meeting between these teams; at the time, it was the Japanese side's biggest ever home loss (now third-biggest). Sunwolves have lost seven of seven games against Australian opposition in Super Rugby, conceding at least 30 and an average of 43 points per game in those matches. The Waratahs have won back to back matches and are looking to win a third on the bounce for the first time since April/May 2016, that was also the last time they won consecutive away games which is on the cards here too. The Sunwolves have conceded a competition high 44 points and 6.6 tries per match this season. Hosea Saumaki has the best average gain per carry of any of the 112 players to make 30+ carries this season (11.4 metres). Many believe this is the Sunwolves best chance of an upset, but we feel the Waratahs will win by at least 15 points.
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Timothy Lafaele,12 Michael Little, 11 Lomano Lava, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 James Moore, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Craig Millar.
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Nikoloz Khatiashvili, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Edward Quirk, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Hosea Saumaki.
Waratahs: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson,
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Mitchell Short, 22 Lalakai Foketi, 23 Cameron Clark.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia
Assistant Referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan) & Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)
Chiefs v Blues
(FMG Stadium, Hamilton – Kick-off: 19.35; 07.35 GMT)
Chiefs coach Colin Cooper made no secret of the fact that he was expecting a fierce backlash from a Blues team still smarting from a hammering at the hands of the Sharks last week.
Losing at home is never easy.
However, coughing up 63 points is something the will elicit a strong reaction.
Cooper said the desire to bounce back from such a loss (40-63) will ensure there is an extra sting in the Blues this week.
"Every team will bring a different edge every week," Cooper told the New Zealand Herald.
"You have to do your preparation well, and you've got to do your planning well."
The Blues, who have started the year with just one win from five matches, have been leaking points at an alarming rate.
Add in the fact that they have already been beaten by the Chiefs this year and there is every reason to expect a backlash.
"We'll treat them with a lot of respect," Cooper said.
"They've got a lot of individual brilliance spread among that team, so if we take them lightly we'll come second," Cooper added.
2018: Chiefs won 27-21, Auckland
2017: Chiefs and Blues drew 16-all, Auckland
2017: Chiefs won 41-26, Hamilton
2016: Chiefs won 29-23, Hamilton
2015: Chiefs won 23-16, Hamilton'
Prediction: The Chiefs are undefeated in their last 13 games against the Blues, the longest unbeaten streak of any team against another in Super Rugby history. Though the Blues have not won away to the Chiefs since 2011, they've picked up three losing bonus points in their last five visits. The Blues have lost 23 of their last 24 away games against sides from New Zealand, the only win in that time coming back in 2013 against the Hurricanes. The Blues have averaged the most possession of any side this season, despite picking up just that single victory, also averaging over 30 points and four tries per game. Damian McKenzie has beaten 34 defenders in 2018, the second most of any player despite playing just five games. The Chiefs are beginning to hit some good form and should win by two scores – 10 points – or more.
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Fa'auli, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Luke Jacobson, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Charlie Ngatai (co-captain), 23 Marty McKenzie.
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie/Jordan Hyland, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 George Moala, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Dalton Papali'i, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Orbyn Leger.
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Glen Jackson
TMO: Aaron Paterson
Compile by Jan de Koning, with additional reporting from RugbyPass
* Statistics provided by Opta Sports