One way of looking at the Super Rugby showdown between the Sharks and the Hurricanes today at Jonsson Kings Park is that it is the home team’s defence versus the visitors’ attack, but this would be an oversimplification given the Sharks have the beefier pack of forwards.
The Sharks have been exceptional on defence this year and of the 15 teams are second only to the Crusaders in terms of tries conceded (the champions have leaked just 25, the Sharks 31), while the Hurricanes are second only to the Crusaders when it comes to tries scored (Crusaders 59, Canes 48).
And if the Hurricanes get plenty of quick, clean ball, they will indeed be asking plenty of questions of the Sharks defence.
Their halfback pairing of Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara is arguably the most dangerous in the world and if those two and full-back Jordie Barrett are the lively creators, wings Wes Goosen and Ben Lam, plus centres Matt Proctor and Ngani Laumape, are the blockbusting finishers.
Barrett was the World Rugby Player of the year in 2017 and a finalist in 2016 and last year, and such is his quality that the Hurricanes are a different team when he does not play. He was rested for the Hurricanes’ last match, their defeat to the Jaguares in Wellington two weeks ago, and the question was raised as to whether his absence was the deciding factor.
The Canes had a bye last week, giving coach John Plumtree plenty of time to digest what went wrong in that game, and now with Barrett back at 10 and the team well rested, Plum will be desperate to get back on track, especially at the Shark Tank.
Perenara is a devastating sniper from around the fringes of the rucks and mauls, and in tandem with Barrett is a headache for the defence.
Plumtree would be forgiven for bearing a grudge against the union that treated him so poorly at the end of 2012 when he was chased away after six years' sterling service.
The Sharks inadvertently did Plum a favour as he has gone from strength to strength, enjoying successful stints as an assistant coach at Ireland, Japan and the Hurricanes before being given the head coach role at the Canes. He is now known to be in the running to succeed All Blacks coach Steve Hansen after the World Cup.
After Plumtree left Durban, the Sharks have not fared as well as him and at best have been annoyingly inconsistent. They are on something of a roll now, though, after a fairly successful overseas tour and a good win last week over the Lions.
What has been evident in the Sharks’ resurgence since their dismal home losses to the Jaguares and Reds is that they have one of the most formidable packs in the competition, when it is at full strength.
Plumtree will know that the key to his team winning today is at least matching the Sharks forwards so that his potent backline receives quality ammunition.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia). Kick-off: 3pm.
Sharks - 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Mzamo Majola.
Subs: 16 Cullen Collopy, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Kobus van Wyk.
Hurricanes - 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Reed Prinsep, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Kane Le’aupepe, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 21 Gareth Evans, 22 Richard Judd, 23 James Marshall.