Sharks aim for eight in a row
Sharks coach John Plumtree (File)
Cape Town - The Sharks will be aiming to finish their Australasian Super Rugby tour on a high against their “favourite” New Zealand team when they face the Blues in Auckland on Friday.
Their record against the three-time champions is very good and the Sharks will not want to tarnish it with a below-par performance at Eden Park.
The Sharks have not lost to the Blues since going down by 36-13 in Auckland in 2005. That is seven straight victories over the team that won the Super Rugby crown in 1996, 1997 and 2003.
It’s quite remarkable, because in that time, the KwaZulu-Natalians twice beat the Blues in New Zealand and also won the semi-final in Durban in 2007. The Sharks were the first team in Super Rugby history to put ten wins on the board against the Blues, even beating the Crusaders to that mark.
In fact, the Sharks’ winning record of 11 out of 15 against the Blues (73.3%), is their best against any New Zealand team. Against the Highlanders (61.5%) and Chiefs (50%), they move in positive territory, but things look much less rosy against the Hurricanes (46.7%) and especially the Crusaders, against whom the team from Durban have only won only 12.5% of their encounters.
These teams have an interesting Super Rugby history - they contested the first Super 12 final, on 25 May 1996, while their 1997 semi-final saw 14 tries scored (Blues 8, Sharks 6), which is the most in a playoff match ever (only the 2004 final, during which 13 tries were scored, has since threatened that tally).
The Sharks would be keen to put last week’s disappointing 42-18 loss to the Hurricanes behind them against a team currently reeling in second last place on the combined Super Rugby log on 10 points - a whopping nine behind the Crusaders, the fourth placed team in the New Zealand Conference.
Springbok prop Jannie du Plessis, one of the most experienced members of the Sharks’ squad, has warned his team-mates not to be fooled by the Blues’ position on the standings and that they can expect a tough encounter.
“The fact of the matter is if we think the Hurricanes were a physical side, we know from previous years that the Blues are way more physical. I don’t care about their record this year, they have a proud rugby history. They are one of the two best rugby playing teams in the country in a proud and successful rugby-playing nation and we know we have our work cut out for us,” said Du Plessis.
“Like us, they’re also fighting for their lives, they’re also in a difficult spot, it’s going to be a tough game and very physical, we’ll need to play ten times better than last week to be in with a shout.”
15 Rudi Wulf, 14 Hadleigh Parkes, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Michael Hobbs, 22 George Moala
15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick
Substitutes: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Frederic Michalak