Sydney – Jake White's return to Canberra adds spice to this weekend's top-of-the-table Super Rugby showdown between the leaders the Sharks and the ACT Brumbies.
The former World Cup-winning Springbok coach quit the Brumbies halfway through a four-year contract after steering the Canberra-based side to last year's Super 15 final.
White went home to South Africa and took charge of the Sharks, who lead the southern hemisphere provincial series by five points from the Brumbies heading into Saturday's confrontation.
White's return to Canberra Stadium dominates pre-match talk as the Sharks attempt to keep their rivals at bay with seven rounds left to July's play-offs.
“It's the elephant in the room that he turned us around and now he's coaching another team that is the only other team ahead of us,” Brumbies' playmaker Matt Toomua said.
“So we've obviously spoken about it, but at the end of the day our focus is on the fact that we had a big loss (to the Crusaders) last weekend and we need to have a big win this weekend.”
The Sharks, who kicked off a four-match Australasian tour with a win over the Melbourne Rebels last week, have only won twice in 10
visits to Australia's capital and face one of their biggest tests of the season.
“It does (provide an advantage) because I know the players better than most, after working with the Brumbies for a long time,” White said.
“I know the weaknesses they had when they were developing their game. Obviously, they would have worked on those weaknesses and got better, but I do know them well.
“At the end of the day, this is the type of game you want to be involved in, you want to be top of the log, playing against a team that's second on the log.”
Defending champions Waikato Chiefs have made two changes with prop Ben Tameifuna and lock Michael Fitzgerald starting for their 'home' tie with the Auckland Blues in New Plymouth on Friday.
The Chiefs hit the top of the New Zealand conference last weekend and face the Blues, who have won their last two matches at home over the NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds.
“Traditionally our games against the Blues have been real ding-dong battles, and with not much between any team in the New Zealand conference it is a massive game for both sides,” Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.
Blues coach John Kirwan said he was expecting a huge challenge from the Chiefs.
“It'll be a big week for them and they'll probably be targeting this week as their rebirth because they haven't been travelling as well as they would have liked although they still have 30 points,” Kirwan said.
The Blues have not won a game on the road in 13 matches.
Seven-time Super Rugby champions Canterbury Crusaders are on the boil and travel to Brisbane aiming for their fifth straight win over the sliding Reds on Sunday.
The sixth-placed Crusaders, who will again be without skipper Kieran Read as he recovers from concussion, last won in Brisbane in 2008.
Western Force's South Africa's duo Wilhelm Steenkamp and Sias Ebersohn take on old pals in Saturday's match against the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Steenkamp played one season for the Cheetahs in 2011, while Ebersohn spent five years at the South African franchise before crossing to the Force at the end of 2012.
The fifth-placed Force have six victories from their last seven games but they haven't won in South Africa since beating the Golden Lions in 2011.
In the weekend's other games, seventh-placed Wellington Hurricanes take on the Rebels in Melbourne, Otago Highlanders host the Lions and the Northern Bulls are at home to Western Stormers.
The Waratahs have a bye. – Sapa-AFP