Sharks seek to reinforce benefits of Aussie raid
Pacesetters can preserve hard-won lead with victory against Stormers in South African derby
The Coastal Sharks will look to tighten their grip as Super Rugby pacesetters in this weekend's South African derby against the Western Stormers.
Jake White's Durban-based team head into their final three games leading by five points and on a high after their successful Australasian tour as they chase their first Super Rugby title.
The Sharks won three of their four tour games, including a first-ever win over seven-time champions the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch, and are aiming to finish top and with it gain home advantage all the way through the play-offs.
Super Rugby goes into a three-week international break after this weekend and the Sharks are five points clear of the NSW Waratahs, although the Sydney-based outfit have a game in hand.
The pressure will be on the Waratahs to beat back-to-back champions the Waikato Chiefs in New Zealand to keep in touch with the Sharks.
"We got a lot of confidence from the tour where we were the first South African side to win overseas this season," Sharks centre Paul Jordaan said.
"The Crusaders win helped us grow a lot as a team and we definitely need to build on that, but the match against the Stormers will be a tough game.
"I think we've set ourselves up nicely throughout the season and we just need to stay composed and work harder to hopefully keep our spot."
The Sharks have lost only one of their last six home games against the Stormers, who are on the up after winning three of their last four matches.
The Chiefs, looking to atone for last weekend's 45-8 walloping by the Wellington Hurricanes, have All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden back to face the Waratahs in New Plymouth.
"It will be how we bounce back that will be the test of the character of this group," coach Dave Rennie said.
"With only two points separating the top four teams in the New Zealand Conference, every game is vital and this stems as season-defining."
The Waratahs are chasing their first Super Rugby win in New Zealand since 2010 but have beaten the Chiefs in four of their last five meetings.
"Not many people will think we can get it done over there, so we've got to make sure that we think we can do it and try and get the job done the best we can," Tahs coach Michael Cheika said.
Kieran Read is back to lead the Crusaders after missing six weeks because of a concussion he suffered on April 19.
The Crusaders, who lead the New Zealand conference and are third overall, take on Australia's Western Force in Christchurch on Friday.
Meanwhile in Sydney, Australian newspapers reported that former Wallabies winger Clyde Rathbone will retire at the end of the season after being called up by the ACT Brumbies for his first Super Rugby game this year.
Rathbone, 32, who has not featured for the Brumbies since last year's final against the Chiefs, will play on the left wing against the Melbourne Rebels in Canberra on Saturday.
South African-born Rathbone, who has had a chequered playing career punctuated by serious injuries, told The Australian that he would be calling it quits.
"This will be my last year at the Brumbies," he said. "It would be great if we could win the next three games, make the finals and who knows what could happen?
"Whether you are a 32-year-old like me or if you are just starting out, you never know when it might be your last one. They all matter."
A former South African under-21s captain under World Cup-winning coach Jake White, he played for the Brumbies from 2003-09 and made a comeback last year.
Rathbone, who played 26 Tests for the Wallabies, said his comeback had exceeded his expectations.
"I didn't have any hard and fast goals," he said. "I just wanted to test myself."
Rathbone was sidelined with a hamstring injury for the first half of the season and was unable to force his way back into the squad with strong competition on the wings from Henry Speight, Joe Tomane and Robbie Coleman.