Preview: Sharks v Hurricanes

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We will find out when an attacking Hurricanes outfit take on the best defence in the competition at the Shark Tank in Durban on Saturday.

The Sharks may not have had the results they needed in 2016, but they have stood tall on defence, conceding the fewest tries (15) so far this season.

Key to the defence has been the centre pairing of Andre Esterhuizen and Paul Jordaan, who together have made a whopping 187 tackles in 2016.

However, Gary Gold’s men face a different animal altogether on Saturday, as the Hurricanes have run in 39 tries this season, which is second only to the indomitable Chiefs.

The Wellington-based franchise love to show the ball some air and, as a result, are ranked first in terms of meters made and carries, not to mention averaging 4.3 tries a game.

It would seem inevitable that the Hurricanes will cross the whitewash on Saturday and it becomes a question of if the Sharks can respond.

Unfortunately, the stats do not paint a pretty picture, as while the Sharks have conceded the least tries, they have only scored 17 in the competition, with only the lowly Force behind them.

In the home side’s favour is the Hurricanes poor record in Durban, as one has to scroll back to 2005 to find their last win there.

A victory on Saturday could define the Sharks season, as they are five points behind conference leader Lions and face a tough test against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires next week.

The last time the teams met: Eventual finalists Hurricanes hosted the Sharks in Round 13 in 2015. Hooker Bismark du Plessis opened the scoring for what was to be tight match, until Jeremy Thrush crashed over in the 73rd minute to secure an eight-point win. Full-back James Marshall, who will feature in Durban on Saturday, kicked five from eight.

Players to watch: Sharks fly-half Garth April, third choice at one point, earns a start after scoring a brilliant individual try last week. With Pat Lambie likely to take his place from the bench, he is in need of a strong performance to keep his position. Since lock Stephan Lewies has returned from injury, he has single handedly solved the Sharks’ lineout woes. With 45 takes in his seven starts he will be key in a game that could be dominated by the boot. 

Speaking of kicking, if it’s inaccurate from the Sharks, the likes of Julian Savea and Cory Jane will punish the Sharks defence. Flanker Ardie Savea is also one to watch, as he has been all over the park this season. While Savea is ranked third in turnovers and fourth in tackles, he is also a threat on attack as he has 12 clean breaks and three tries for his efforts.

Team news: The home side are boosted by the return of captain Beast Mtawarira – who was rested last week against the Chiefs – and Springbok Pat Lambie, albeit on the bench. The Durban faithful will no doubt be eager to see one of their favourite number tens back on the field. Pivot Garth April will get his third successive start and he will will be paired up with Michael Claassens who starts in the injury absence of Cobus Reinach. Stefan Ungerer comes in the matchday 23 as cover for scrum-half.

For the Hurricanes, the only change from the XV that trounced the Lions last week is at full-back, where James Marshall comes in the place of Jason Woodward, who drops to the bench. The only other changes are on the bench, where prop Ben May, lock Mark Abbott and centre Ngani Laumape all serve as cover.

Form: While the Sharks have won just one of their last six matches, they will be delighted to have picked up six points on a difficult tour. Their win was over the Highlanders and they put on a sterling performance against the prolific Chiefs last week, only being edged by two points.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have established themselves as frontrunners for the title. After a slow start, losing their opening two games, they have won six out of the last seven, including last weekend’s 50-point rout of the Lions.

Prediction: The Hurricanes might be on a high, bet we expect a disciplined Sharks outfit to crash their party and squeeze out a vital home win. Sharks by three points.

Previous results:

2015: Hurricanes won 32-24 in Wellington
2014: Sharks won 27-9 in Durban
2012: Hurricanes won 42-18 in Wellington
2011: Sharks won 40-24 in Durban
2010: Sharks won 29-26 in Wellington
2009: Sharks won 33-17 in Durban
2008: Draw 13-13 in Wellington
2007: Sharks won 27-14 in Durban

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c)
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Odwa Ndungane

Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (vc), 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reg Goodes
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ngani Laumape, 23 Jason Woodward

Date: Saturday, May 7
Venue: Growthpoint Stadium, Durban
Kick-off: 15:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman, Rodney Bonaparte
TMO: Marius Jonker