Sharks ‘desperate’ to bounce back
After two consecutive defeats, the Sharks will be desperate to get back on the winning track when they host the Stormers in Durban on Saturday, which could make them a dangerous prospect.
Although the Stormers have not lost a match, the Sharks have been the most impressive of the South African teams in this season's Vodacom Super Rugby competition with 17 tries to show for their efforts.
They have shown they can win playing “ugly” rugby if needed, and have also delivered the vibrant style that saw them earn two Absa Currie Cup crowns in the space of three years.
The Sharks also boast an impressive record at home where they have not lost to the Stormers, in this competition, since 2004.
However John Plmuntree's squad would have noted that the Stormers ended an equally long drought at a South African venue this year when they beat the Bulls 23-13 at Loftus.
Apart from the return of talisman Schalk Burger, whose presence tends to lift his team's moral, the Stormers enter the match with confidence gained from last week's 51-16 drubbing of the Western Force.
For the Sharks this match is by far the most important of the season to date as another defeat will nullify the outstanding work they have produced.
Other South African sides will also hope the Sharks play their part in preventing the Stormers from creating a buffer at the top of the log.
“The next two weeks are going to be crucial for us before the bye week,” Plumtree said this week.
“This is the first time we're home for a month and the boys have been looking forward to getting home and having a game in front of our fans, and who better than playing against the Stormers.”
Plumtree decided to retain the services of Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira in the starting line-up ahead of utility frontrower John Smit in one of only two changes to his team.
Springbok wing JP Pietersen returns in the only other change to the Sharks side.
As is always the case when two evenly matched outfits face each other, the role of their respective goalkickers will be crucial.
Meanwhile, in the early match on Saturday the Cheetahs take on the Blues in Auckland.
The Cheetahs side are not expected to win this one, but after their success against the Waratahs in their first match on tour, the Blues will be foolish if they underestimate the side from Bloemfontein who have nothing to lose.
In the second match of the day the Bulls will hope to get their overseas tour off to a positive start when they take on the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The defending champions have welcomed fullback Zane Kirchner back from injury and replaced in-form hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle with the more experienced Gary Botha.
The Bulls, like the Sharks, cannot afford to lose if they are to keep in touch with the log topping Stormers in the South African conference. – Sapa