Sydney – The Sharks, on a high after a historic win over the Canterbury Crusaders, are looking to cash in on their dominant Super Rugby record over the Auckland Blues this weekend.
The South African pacesetters beat the seven-time champion Crusaders for the first time in Christchurch in 18 years last weekend and face the Blues in the final match of what has been a successful Australasian tour.
Jake White's Sharks lead the ACT Brumbies and back-to-back champions Waikato Chiefs by five points and want to keep the pressure on their title rivals with victory over the Blues at North Harbour.
The Durban-based outfit are chasing a 10th straight win over the 10th-placed Blues but White is wary of the unpredictable Aucklanders.
“We are going to have to defend, they'll definitely try run the ball back and they've got some dangerous outside backs,” White said.
“There is a massive vibe in the team now and we need to take that forward into the next couple of weeks.”
Openside flanker Luke Braid returns from injury to captain the Blues after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury.
Both the Brumbies and Chiefs have testing games this weekend, with the Canberra-based side away to the Northern Bulls in Pretoria and the Chiefs taking on the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The Brumbies are under pressure after losing to the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and are just one point clear of the NSW Waratahs in the Australian conference.
“We're not getting the rhythm that we want, a lot of our first-phase is getting disrupted, so we're playing on the back foot all the time,” Brumbies playmaker Matt Toomua said.
“You don't play well all year round, but we've got to pick ourselves up because the last three games haven't been up to scratch.”
The Brumbies have won on four of their 10 visits to Loftus Versfeld while the Bulls are desperate to win to keep in touch with the top six playoff spots.
Regular captain Flip van der Merwe is back for the Bulls after missing three matches through suspension.
“Flip's leadership is very important to the team and as a senior player he does set an excellent example,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said.
The Chiefs may be leading the New Zealand conference, but the team's centurion Tanerau Latimer says the back-to-back Super Rugby champions have not been up to the required standard this season.
The Chiefs face the Hurricanes coming off a 32-20 victory over the Blues before last week's bye.
“The coaches might put it differently but that's my opinion and hopefully the boys have got a taste of it now and know what it's like now,” Latimer, who has won 107 Super Rugby caps, said.
“It just shows we've got it in us. It took a long time to get it out of us but we know we can do it now.”
The fourth-placed Waratahs have made two changes to the starting line-up for the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday.
South African lock Jacques Potgieter returns to the tight five, while Alofa Alofa starts on the wing.
“The Rebels are always tough to beat at home and they'll have a lot of confidence, highlighted by their first away win over the Reds,” defensive coach Nathan Grey said.
Coach Todd Blackadder has made six changes to the Crusaders side to face the Otago Highlanders.
The entire front row has been replaced with Tim Perry, Ben Funnell and Nepo Laulala taking the starting spots while scrum-half Andy Ellis and fullback Israel Dagg return.
In other matches, Western Force host the Golden Lions in Perth and the Western Stormers take on the Cheetahs in Cape Town. The Reds have the bye. – Sapa-AFP