DURBAN - The Sharks have never gone so far as to say they have cracked the ‘Kiwi code’, having done so well against four of their New Zealand opponents this season, but coach Robert du Preez does admit that these challenges bring the best out of his side.
It has been evident in a season of inconsistency from the Durban-based side - the bigger the game, the better the performance. But in equal measure, when the pressure is off the Sharks fall asleep. They now face their biggest challenge of the entire season, not only in terms of what is at stake, but also in the quality of the opponents, facing off against the Crusaders in Christchurch at 9:40am (SA time) on Saturday.
The Crusaders will be the final piece in the New Zealand puzzle for the visiting Sharks, who have a three out of four win record against the other Kiwi sides, including a one-point 85th minute loss to the Hurricanes.
“The guys like playing against New Zealand sides, it has brought the best out of the team,” coach Du Preez said from Christchurch. “We are against a formidable side that has been playing real good rugby the whole season. Their record speaks for itself. But it is a one off game and we will give it our best shot; we are there to beat the odds on Saturday.”
The Crusaders have only lost two games all season, and have not lost a home game in two years. So indeed, the odds are well stacked against the Sharks. The visitors though are looking at this game for its merits, it is knock out rugby and anything can happen, so a win is all that is needed.
The coach says that the way to beat the Crusaders is to try and play rugby against them, not to sink into a defensive shell. “For us it will be important to make sure we don’t go out there to defend,” Du Preez admitted. “We have to get the ball in hand, put phases together and really go in there and attack. We have absolutely nothing to lose, and on Saturday we are going to do just that. Every player is up for it."
The Sharks have had the luxury of naming an unchanged team from the side that won at Kings Park against the Jaguares to secure this progression to the quarter-finals. Additionally, it will be Beast Mtawarira’s 150th cap for the Sharks, having just recently made it 100 caps for the Springboks.
“Beast has been fantastic for us this year,” Du Preez added. “His record speaks for itself and he’s an inspiration for the boys. He has unbelievable leadership skills and has been playing great rugby this year. He will be very keen to play really well on Saturday and to celebrate his 150th cap against the Crusaders.”
Sharks team: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Wian Vosloo, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Makazole Mapimpi.