Preview: Sharks v Sunwolves

The Sharks will hope to secure their quarter-final spot when they play the Sunwolves for the first time ever at Kings Park on Friday. 

The Durban franchise are on the cusp of grabbing the last seat to the quarter-finals at the expense of the Bulls. If the Sharks beat the Sunwolves in Durban they will secure the final allocated quarter-final berth for the South African group and be placed as the eighth seed in the business end of the competition. 

The Sunwolves have nothing left to play for but their pride. They will want to end their first season in Super Rugby on a high as they try and beat the Kings on the table to avoid being the wooden spoon holders in the competition. Assuming the Kings don't win any table points in Cape Town, it will still be a difficult feat as they take on a bourgoning Sharks team. 

Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold has had a torrid time with injuries. The most crippling of which came when Patrick Lambie could not recover in time for the derby with the Cheetahs last weekend but has been bracketed to play this week on the bench. Another hindering set-back is Willie le Roux's injury that has kept the full-back sidelined since the end of the June-International window. Gold also chose to rest captain Tendai Mtawarira.

Gold, inadvertantly or not, has selected an incredibly progressive team for this weekend. His side boasts seven black players in the starting line-up with JP Pietersen taking the reigns from Mtawarira as captain.

The Sharks boss insisted that his will not underestimate the Sunwolves and says they have done well in their first season. 

"We've planned accordingly for the two scenarios that may occur at the end of this weekend, but we'll know when we'll travel. At least we have peace of mind knowing how the start of our week will be," Gold said

"We need certainty, regardless of what the results will be."

"We were poor against the Lions and there were signs of life against the Cheetahs, but we need to put together something clinical against the Sunwolves on Friday."

"Their home record is admirable for first-timers. South African teams struggle against them. We need to come out of this game with confidence on many aspects,"

The Sunwolves were woeful defensively against the Bulls. They missed 34 tackles last week. A statistic they will have to improve if they want to be competitive against a competent Sharks attack. 

Players to watch: Garth April's inclusion in the Springbok 'A' side seemed to have left the the young play-maker shaken and not at his best. But he finally seems to be regaining his pre-international-window form. April scored added 16 points to his team's tally and also showed some great skill on his feet as he beat two defenders and broke the line. He blew hot and cold last weekend but expect him to have a cracker against the Sunwolves on Friday. Phillip van der Walt was excellent against his old the side last week, and he should produce a similar performance against Sunwolves. The ever-industrious number eight made 10 tackles last weekend and asserted his physical presence to get the Sharks over the gainline. The loose-forward should have another big game this weekend.  

Despite his side being at the wrong end of a demolition last weekend, Ed Quirk had a decent game for his side and if the Sunwolves get their act together and gain some momentum Quirk could be lethal. He made six tackles last week and was a menace at the breakdown. If the Sharks want quick ball, their loose-trio will have to be on form to negate Quirk's influence. 

Team news: The Sharks coaching staff have made six changes to the side that beat the Cheetahs last weekend.
Thomas du Toit replaces Tendai Mtawarira at loose-head prop as he drops completely out of the squad for a much deserved break. Mahlatse Ralepelle replaces Franco Marais at hooker while Stephan Lewies will move to the bench as Ruan Botha takes his place and Tera Mthembu replaces Jean-Luc du Preez at blind-side flank. Odwa Ndungane will start at 14 as Sibusiso Sithole drops out of the squad and Stefan Ungerer is rotated with Michael Claasen who moves to the bench. 

The Sunwolves have made three changes to their side. Flyhalf Yu Tamura takes over the captaincy from Harumichi Tatekawa and Mifiposeti Paea will play directly outsdide him at inside centre. The scrumhalves get a shuffle with Kaito Shigeno getting a start over Yuki Yatomi. Faatiga Lemalu joining Hitoshi Ono in the second-row is the only change in the forward pack.

Form: The Sharks are having a fairly good run besides a 37-10 pummelling at the hands of the Sharks in Johannesburg. The men in black beat the Hurricanes in Durban in possibly their best performance of the season, they clobbered the Kings 53-0, scraped past the Jaguares 25-22 in Beunos Aires and were able to close out the Cheetahs 26-10. After their mid-season slump the Sharks seem to be gaining momentum. 

The Sunwolves have had a fairly dismal end to their season. The Japanese sides' most positive result in their last five games was a draw against the Stormers in Round 12 but there's not much else to write home about. Since then they have had a tough tour after losing 66-5 against the Brumbies in Canberra, 35-25 to the Reds in Brisbane, a brief stint at home were they were handed 57-12 defeat against the Waratahs in Tokyo before being out-muscled in Pretoria leading to 50-3 loss to the Bulls.

Prediction: The Sunwolves will put on a brave performance and test the Sharks with some quick back-line play. But the second best defensive side shouldn't be too phased and beat them soundly. SHARKS by 15. 

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen (c), 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Tera Mtembu, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit 
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stefan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 Curwin Bosch

Sunwolves: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Hajime Yamashita, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Mifiposeti Paea, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura,10 Yu Tamura (c), 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Taiyo Ando, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Faatiga Lemalu, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Futoshi Mori, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Naohiro Kotaki, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Ryohei Yamanaka, 23 Kentaro Kodama

Date: Friday, July 15
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick Off local: 19:00 local (17:00)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
TMO : Marius Jonker (South Africa)