Preview: Sharks v Crusaders

The Crusaders arrive on African shores for the first time in 2016 to face the battle-hardened Sharks in Round Five of Super Rugby.

"They will be kick-fests,” said Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder earlier in the week on the back-to-back fixtures against the Sharks and Lions.

“They will kick to the corner and drive the hell out of you."

Well, there is some truth to that. The Sharks have averaged 23.5 kicks from hand per game, ranking them fifth in that category. However, Sharks coach Gary Gold might want to re-think the kicking strategy, as the visitors lead the lineout stats, winning 93 per cent of their own ball.

That said, kicking and playing in the right part of the field has been part of the Durban outfit’s success, as they are often able to win turnovers.

The indomitable Marcell Coetzee has helped his side notch up a tournament-leading 39 steals, proving they are threat anywhere on the park.

While the Sharks have been superb on defence – they are the only side yet to concede a second half try – they will arguably face their toughest test against a crafty Crusaders backline that has amassed 45 clean breaks in their three games.

Interestingly, seven of the Crusaders 13 tries in the competition so far have come in the second half, with a lot of the damage coming in their thrashing of the Kings last week when Nemani Nadolo got the engine fired up.

Either way, it is shaping up to be a titanic battle at the Shark Tank, where home fans will be hoping to eclipse the memory of…

The last time these teams met: The Crusaders brought the Sharks’ three-win streak to an abrupt halt with their convincing 52-10 win in round eight in Durban last year. Sharks number eight Jean Deysel was the villain of the match, earning a red card on the stroke of half-time, handing the initiative to the visitors. 

Players to watch: It’s almost getting boring because we say it every week, but Marcell Coetzee continues to outperform himself week-in and week-out. The flanker is number one in turnovers won, with nine for the competition, and has made 44 tackles. Livewire Cobus Reinach will have to be carefully policed by opposite number Andy Ellis while Willie Le Roux is showing glimpses of returning to form.

Fly-half Richie Mo’unga has been the find of the season so far for the Crusaders. The 21-year-old has notched up 50 points in his opening three games. His tactical kicking has been on point, as his been his decision making, while his three tries prove that he can run the ball as well. It will be interesting to see Kieran Reed’s first outing of the year, while Nemani Nadolo is sure to provide some fireworks on the wing. 

Team news: The home side have made five changes to the starting XV, including a positional switch. The settled-looking backline welcomes Reinach at scrum-half in the place of Michael Claassens. Philip van der Walt moves to number eight while the hard-working Daniel du Preez takes a spot in the bench and is replaced by his twin brother Jean-Luc on the flank. Coenie Oosthuizen and Franco Marais return to the starting line-up as Gold’s rotational policy continues.

For the Crusaders, All Black Read returns as captain after a well earned rest taking over from Sam Whitelock, who remains at lock. Cody Taylor and Joe Moody come in at hooker and loosehead prop respectively while lock Scott Barrett takes over from Luke Romano. Veteran Andy Ellis starts at scrum-half, with David Havili moving from inside centre to full-back, where he replaces Ben Volavola. Finally, Ryan Crotty comes in to the side to wear the number 12 jersey.

Form: The Sharks remain the only undefeated team in the competition is we head into week five. A strong showing in Cape Town led to a win over the Stormers which was followed by a come-from-behind draw against the Bulls, that should have been a win if you ask Joe Pietersen. Meanwhile, the Crusaders begin their three-match tour after a slow start to the season. They lost to the Chiefs first up and downed the Blues the following week before heading into their bye. Now, Blackadder’s men are flying high after their 57-24 routing of the Kings in Christchurch.

Prediction: This one is almost too close to call given the Sharks form and the Crusaders freshness. History has shown that the first match of a tour is often the most difficult and it is for that reason why we are picking the Sharks to edge the visitors. Sharks by five.

Previous results:

2015: Crusaders won 52-10 in Durban
2014: Crusaders won 38-6 in Christchurch
2014: Sharks won 30-25 in Christchurch
2013: Sharks won 21-17 in Durban
2011: Crusaders won 36-8 in Nelson
2011: Crusaders won 44-28 in London
2010: Crusaders won 35-6 in Christchurch
2009: Crusaders won 13-10 in Durban

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c)
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Garth April, 23 Odwa Ndungane

Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Tim Boys, 22 Mitchell Drummond, 23 Ben Volavola

Date: Saturday, March 26
Venue: Kings Park Stadium, Durban
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Johan Greeff

by Doug Mattushek