Sharks pose big threat to in-form Crusaders
The injury-hit Canterbury Crusaders are bidding for a fourth straight win over the South African opposition and 2012 Super 15 finalists the Sharks in Durban early tomorrow morning (HK time) in one of the standout ties of the weekend.
The seven-time-champion Crusaders, already without captain Kieran Read and star All Blacks Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, will be missing hooker Corey Flynn with an eye injury, while Israel Dagg is in doubt with a hamstring injury.
Traditionally the benchmark in Super Rugby, the Crusaders recovered strongly after losing their first two matches of the season, beating the Northern Bulls (41-19), Southern Kings (55-20) and Western Stormers (19-14).
The Sharks, who hammered the Melbourne Rebels 64-7 in their last outing at home before a bye last weekend, are leading the South African conference and are anticipating a tough match against the Crusaders.
"The Crusaders' skill levels are really high, their backs and forwards handle the ball well, so our defensive plan is going to have to be very accurate," said Sharks coach John Plumtree.
"The breakdown is also going to be huge and we need to be competitive against a team like the Crusaders who are able to hold onto the ball for long periods of time."
The two teams last met in 2011 in the play-offs when the Crusaders won 36-8, securing a place in the semi-finals.
Coach Todd Blackadder has given indications of a running game against the Sharks with the inclusion of Tom Marshall at fullback and scrum half Andy Ellis.
Competition front-runners the ACT Brumbies are at home today to the Kings and are hoping to pick up an extra bonus point with reigning champions the Waikato Chiefs, in second place in the standings, having this weekend off with a bye.
Brumbies coach Jake White said Wallabies centre Pat McCabe is likely to make his long-awaited return after a hamstring injury he suffered in a trial game in early March.
"Pat's fine. He's pulled up nicely this week so in all likelihood he'll be involved this weekend," White said.
The Port Elizabeth-based Kings, in their debut Super Rugby season, won their opening game against the Western Force but have lost their last four games.
The in-form Central Cheetahs, winners in their past four outings, have dropped scrum half Sarel Pretorius for Piet van Zyl for tomorrow's South African derby with the Stormers in Bloemfontein.
"The Stormers are good on defence and we expect a tough game this weekend. It is always a close game when we play against them, Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske said.
"It is important for us to keep the momentum of the last couple of weeks."