Sharks look to stay ahead of the pack

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iol spt pic Paul Jordaan Gallo Images Sharks centre Paul Jordaan Photo: Steve Haag

Sydney - The Sharks will look to tighten their grip as Super Rugby pacesetters in this weekend's clash against the Stormers.

Jake White's 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 home advantage all the way through the Super Rugby play-offs.

Super Rugby goes into a three-week international break after this weekend and the Sharks are five points clear of the Waratahs, although the Sydney-based outfit have a game in hand.

The pressure will be on the Waratahs to beat back-to-back champions Chiefs in New Zealand this weekend 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 only lost 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 after last weekend's 45-8 walloping by the Hurricanes, have All Black 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 with the effects of concussion he suffered against the Chiefs 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.

“We are up against another very tough team this week and this win is so important for both of us,” Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said.

The Force are likely to need two wins from their final four games to secure a top-six berth.

It is an important game for the Brumbies against the Rebels in Canberra on Saturday after losing both their South African tour matches against the Cheetahs and Bulls.

The Brumbies have slumped from second to outside the top-six play-off positions in seventh spot.

“We have to win every game from here,” coach Stephen Larkham said.

“There's a little more pressure on us as our season is on the line, but I like to think we've got a stronger urge to win.”

The Highlanders and Hurricanes have crucial away games this weekend to stay in the top six.

The Highlanders play bottom team the Reds, while the Hurricanes face the Blues in Auckland.

In the remaining game, the Lions are at home to the Bulls in Johannesburg, while the Cheetahs have a bye.

Sapa-AFP



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