Cape Town – The Brendan Venter-inspired Sharks look set to extend their three-match winning streak at the expense of ending Western Province's unbeaten Currie Cup run at Newlands on Saturday.
Since their opening round loss to the Griquas, the Sharks have gone from strength-to-strength, whereas WP have scrambled two one-point wins as well as two draws.
Overall, the unbeaten Capetonians have been far from convincing, while the Sharks oozed class last week when they defeated the Blue Bulls 34-18.
Sharks flank Keegan Daniel said Venter, the Sharks' director of rugby, has played a huge role in turning the team's fortunes around.
“Brendan has brought in a few new tactical and structural things,” Daniel said.
“You can see his passion and involvement in training, and he just wants to see a high work rate from all the players.”
In the past week, the Sharks have had scrum guru Balie Swart tweaking their set-piece and this could help them to improve on their overall performance.
Province coach Allister Coetzee this week said the Sharks were becoming increasingly structured and have used the kicking game to good effect.
Coetzee has called up scrumhalf Louis Schreuder to help counter the visitors' kicking strategy.
“The Sharks have used the kicking game well, and Louis is a player who positions himself well to receive kicks,” Coetzee said.
“They know we have attacking players like Gio (Aplon) and Cheslin Kolbe and they are likely to kick more on them to entice counter-attacks from deep options.
“In that way they may try to ensure that we don't always play in the right areas.”
The Sharks' inclusion of flyhalf Butch James and centre Tim Whitehead poses a variety of challenges for the WP defence.
Western Province backline coach Robbie Fleck knows what the duo will bring to Newlands, having played with James at Springbok level, and coached Whitehead in the past.
“With Butch at number 10, the Sharks will have a calming influence because he won't be intimidated by the Newlands atmosphere, and Tim knows Newlands too,” Fleck said.
Both sides will field formidable loose-trios and Province captain Deon Fourie predicted the breakdown battle would be a feature of the clash.
Province have Nizaam Carr, Rynhardt Elstadt and Fourie to patrol the breakdown areas, while the Sharks have Jacques Botes, Jean Deysel and Daniel on duty there.
“The breakdown play will produce massive battles and it's going to be a crucial factor in determining the outcome of the match,” Fourie said.
“Deysel has had massive games of late and he is on top of his game.
“But overall, form has been funny this Currie Cup season because performances have been up one week and down the next.” – Sapa