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Sharks can’t take any chances


They will have to keep the ball out of the dangerous Chiefs backline players' hands

Picture: BackPage Pix

SAY what you like about the Sharks and their inconsistency, they have been on song against New Zealand opposition over the last two seasons.

You could say they cracked the Kiwi code given that last year they beat the Blues and Highlanders and lost 38-37 away to the Hurricanes, and this season have beaten the Blues and drawn with the Crusaders.

The Sharks are undefeated in their last four games against New Zealand opposition (W3, D1), and they can consolidate this with a win tomorrow in Hamilton against the Chiefs (9.30am).

The Sharks will back themselves to end their tour on a high against a Chiefs team that has been shown to be mortal when cut off at source, while they can cut you to pieces if they get ample front-foot ball.

The visitors will have noted that the Chiefs have won one of their last five games on home soil, and that the Sharks have won two of their last three Super Rugby games against the Chiefs, and will look to nail back-to-back wins against them for the first time since 2008/9.

On the counter, of games played in Hamilton between the sides, the Chiefs have won four in a row, although just one of those four wins came by a margin of more than eight points.

The Sharks will be heartened that the Chiefs recently lost to SA opposition on their home ground, when the Lions won 23-17. But they have been forewarned by what happened to the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld when the home side let the Chiefs forwards get on top the visitors scored 56 points, amassing seven tries.

And when the Chiefs get into their stride, they are the top off-loaders according to the stats, both in the team and individual stakes, with centre Anton Lienert-Brown having made 28 offloads, nine more than any other player.

Interestingly, the Chiefs are Super Rugby’s best disciplined team. They have conceded just seven penalties per game thus far, the fewest of any other team and three fewer per game than the Sharks (10).

Sharks coach Robert du Preez has made a rotational change at inside centre where André Esterhuizen gets a break and in comes Marius Louw.

In the second row, the hard-working Hyron Andrews returns for Ruben van Heerden; at No 8 Dan du Preez is given a rest after carrying a heavy workload this season, with Philip van der Walt moving to the position and Jacques Vermeulen starting at blindside flank.

Akker van der Merwe has returned home from the tour with a shoulder niggle, with Fez Mbatha having joined the team earlier in the week to cover hooker.