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    Sharks must halt Chiefs’ run

    2012-04-16 07:52
    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
    Cape Town – The rather yo-yoing Sharks have a dual responsibility in their influential Super Rugby meeting with new overall log-leaders the Chiefs at Mr Price Kings Park on Saturday.

    Not only will victory mean an awful lot in their quest to qualify for the playoffs again this year, but their halting the charge of the currently rampant Waikato franchise is also important for the respective aspirations of better-placed compatriots the Stormers and Bulls to secure top spot on the broader table and thus the likelihood of a home final.

    Put it this way: if the Chiefs win again in Durban, it would be their seventh on the trot, something no other team has achieved yet this season, and signal the end of a hugely successful three-match tour abroad for them.

    Since getting on the “road”, they have beaten the Force in Perth, and also now the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein with a bonus point.

    A rare overseas treble, completed if they subdue the Sharks, would leave them in a great position to challenge for the home showpiece – apart from a trip to Brisbane to play defending champions the Reds, all of their remaining fixtures are in New Zealand.

    Included in that bag are several tough NZ conference derbies, it must be said, although their remaining dates against South African opposition will be home ones against the ailing Lions (Pukekohe, May 5) and Bulls (Hamilton, May 25).

    Their confidence will be high after a slick, entertaining triumph over a spirited Cheetahs side who threatened to snatch the game themselves at times, despite the huge pre-game blow of losing inspirational captain and hooker Adriaan Strauss to flu.

    South Africans were also able to see for themselves that the Chiefs of 2012 are not only all about devilish Sonny Bill Williams off-loads: there is class and flair aplenty around him in the backline, and the pack – once certainly not among the best in Super Rugby – is muscular and competitive.

    As things stand the Chiefs, on 31, lead the overall standings by two points from both the Stormers and Bulls, locked together on 29 points although separated by the stipulation that the best-placed Australian side – the Brumbies – has to feature in the top three.

    Jake White’s slightly surprise packages only boast 24 points, however, so they are to all intents and purposes sixth in the pecking order.

    They will also hardly be billed favourites for their next match against the Bulls at Loftus this weekend.

    Meanwhile the Stormers are unlikely to be hitting any panic buttons after their first defeat of the season to the Crusaders in Christchurch, and remain highly respected by many neutral judges despite the 31-24 setback.

    But they will also slip to fairly shaky territory all of a sudden if they go down to the Reds on Friday, a team coming off the refreshment of a bye – and that will be especially so if the Chiefs conquer the Sharks to ominously extend their lead over the ambitions Capetonians.

    John Plumtree’s side completed a decent enough overseas leg by beating the crisis-torn Blues, but could be vulnerable this Saturday because they are still a week away from a much-needed first bye and probably both mentally and physically tired after the four-game Antipodean venture.

    So the coach will have to rally his troops for one last heroic effort against the Chiefs ahead of the battery-recharging break.

    It was these opponents last season who snapped a four-game winning streak by the Sharks at the outset of the campaign, beating them 15-9 in Hamilton.

    If the Sharks manage to turn the tables for that loss, they will have brought to a halt an even more protracted run of victories by the Chiefs this year ... and be doing several sides in the competition a big favour in the process.

    This week’s fixtures (home teams first):

    Friday: Highlanders v Blues (09:35 SA time), Reds v Stormers (11:40). Saturday: Hurricanes v Crusaders (09:35), Waratahs v Rebels (11:40), Sharks v Chiefs (17:05), Bulls v Brumbies (19:10). Byes: Cheetahs, Force, Lions.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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