DURBAN – The Sharks are 10/1 outsiders to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch tomorrow, but I reckon this game will be a lot closer than people think.
With the Crusaders resting some key players, and the Sharks having their tails up after winning in Sydney, it might be worth having a small flutter on the Sharks revisiting their 2014 triumph in Christchurch.
The Crusaders are without Sam Whitelock, Richie Mo’unga and Ryan Crotty. In the absence of captain Whitelock, flank Matt Todd will lead the team.
It means the champions have a new second-row combination in Mitch Dunshea and Scott Barrett, while regular outside centre Jack Goodhue moves to No 12, and Mitch Hunt replaces Mo’unga at flyhalf.
The Sharks, though, have mostly kept together the team that beat the Waratahs, the notable exception being Tendai Mtawarira who has returned to Durban with a knee injury. The veteran played in that 2014 victory over the Crusaders and his experience will be missed.
Thomas du Toit has moved from tighthead to loosehead for Mtawarira and Coenie Oosthuizen comes into the side at tighthead.
I like the look of the re-jigged second row which sees rugged Ruan Botha in for Hyron Andrews. The latter has done well this season, while Botha was injured, but Botha’s greater size and physicality adds value. The only change to the backline is at scrumhalf where captain Louis Schreuder replaces Cameron Wright, while Curwin Bosch continues at flyhalf.
Speaking from Christchurch, coach Robert du Preez said Wright and Bosch had excelled in Sydney.
“They had top games. Cameron hadn’t played for three or four weeks ... I thought he was really good. Curwin had a very good game and managed the game well,” Du Preez said.
Du Preez added that the forwards had laid the foundation for last week’s victory.
“The starting pack was outstanding and then the replacements made a massive difference,” he said.
In the vanguard of that effort was the rejuvenated Jean-Luc du Preez, who was starting his first game after injury.
“Jean-Luc had a big game, he brings a lot of aggression and physicality. He made a lot of carries and ignites the pack. It is good to have (him) back,” the coach said.
The Sharks side is:
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrew, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Marius Louw.@MikeGreenaway67