Christchurch - The Cell C Sharks have a mighty crusade on their hands this weekend as they face the seven time champions in Christchurch in Saturday’s Super Rugby clash.
They’re up against a Crusaders’ team, perennial performers over the years with seven titles and a total of 10 appearances in the finals, but it’s been six years since their last win, the 2008 Super 14, reports Sharks website editor Michael Marnewick
Given their recent form – five straight victories including the scalps of the Brumbies and Chiefs and a 57-29 demolition of the Reds on the weekend – it would not be incorrect to suggest that the Crusaders are in a good place right now.
Like the Sharks, they too boast an excellent defensive structure, and the pair are top and second respectively in terms of a positive points differential.
All of which makes for an intriguing contest on the weekend.
The Crusaders have proved in recent weeks (and certainly in scoring six tries against the Reds) that they have a strong attacking mindset to match, and Jake White, the Sharks director of rugby admitted this week that scoring tries is a big part of their goals.
"I’m on the same page as every supporter," he said.
"We’re not scoring tries, but tries are hard to come by.
"If you look at all the games, it’s not like we’re the only team struggling to score tries.
"Defences have got better, referees are rewarding teams that are defending and so it’s much harder to hold on to the ball now.
"Teams are being rewarded for the way they are defending, and if they’re hard on the ball, they’re getting rewarded.
"There is a lot more to the laws and rules that’s encouraging teams to defend.
"If you look at our game against the Brumbies, they had 41% possession and ended up winning the game.
"They made 144 tackles, we made 59 and they ended up winning. I’m the first to admit it, we don’t want to become a dull team.
"That match was the exception, that was how we wanted to play that game (given the conditions and opposition)."
He added that continuous disruptions in the pivotal flyhalf position had not helped matters.
"There is a concern we’re not scoring tries but I also put it down to the fact that it is very difficult to get cohesion when you have a new number 10 all the time."
Although his team are top of the log, the Crusaders’ recent run of good form and winning record at home against South African sides has seen them named as favourites for the match.
"South Africans generally like to be the under dogs, but what I am excited about is with those records, you can sketch your name into the history books if you win this game," he admits.
"That doesn’t just excite South African rugby players, it excites every rugby player to be the first team to have won there in a long, long time.
"I’m sure that will be something in the back of the players’ minds, that they get an opportunity to give it an 80 minute crack."Teams:Crusaders:
15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty (captain), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willie Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 George Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Nafi TuitavakeSharks:
15. SP Marais 14. JP Pietersen 13. S’bura Sithole 12. Paul Jordaan 11. Lwazi Mvovo 10. Francois Steyn 9. Cobus Reinach 8. Willem Alberts 7. Jean Deysel 6. Tera Mtembu 5. Stephan Lewies 4. Etienne Oosthuizen 3. Jannie du Plessis 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain) 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper 17. Dale Chadwick 18. Lourens Adriaanse 19. Ryan Kankowski 20. Keegan Daniel 21. Charl McLeod 22. Tim Swiel 23. Heimar Williams