The Sharks will be looking to make it two wins from two in Super Rugby when they face an injury-hit Hurricanes side at Kings Park on Saturday.
Victor Vito, Ardie Savea and Brad Shields aren’t involved for the ‘Canes in their opener, which is a major blow before a ball has been kicked.
It’s difficult to stress just how much of a loss this is to the visitors as the trio are some of coach Mark Hammett’s vital attacking weapons. Shields and Vito’s athleticism is often seen in wide channels, where they cause defences trouble, while Savea is New Zealand’s next big thing.
Their absence subsequently hands the Sharks a lift before kick-off but for the neutral it comes as a blow as a scrap between the trio and Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts and Marcell Coetzee would have been worth the entrance fee alone. A lot now rests on Faifili Levave and Jack Lam for the Hurricanes while Blade Thomson adds to his one appearance of last year at one of the toughest venues around, versus a side looking in-form.
Last week’s 31-16 win over the Bulls at this very ground saw strong games from several Sharks players, with a noticeable amount of hard work having gone in during the off-season. Frans Steyn looked to have slimmed down, Paul Jordaan seems niggle free while Pat Lambie played smart.
Indeed Steyn got the better of opposite number Jan Serfontein which, for the benefit of the Springboks, is great news for South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer. Having both those two snapping at each others’ heels behind Jean de Villiers can only be seen as a positive approaching 2015.
Willem Alberts was not at his best against the Bulls though so a riposte is expected, with his carrying combined with a powerful home driving maul set to feature heavily. If the Sharks do dominate up front, it would help nullify the threat that is Julian Savea and Cory Jane out wide.
Jane returns to Super Rugby following last season’s injury and lines up alongside one of the stories of the past twelve months, Marty Banks. Banks earned a Hurricanes deal after impressing for Tasman in the ITM Cup, this coming after stints in Russia and New Zealand’s Buller side.
Could it be a similar fairytale-esque start to the season for the Hurricanes? It’s unlikely as this is a Sharks team on a mission that has a week of top flight rugby under its belt. Expect moments of class from Beauden Barrett and company but the home side will have too much grunt.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 S’bura Sithole.
Hurricanes: 15 Marty Banks, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Hadleigh Parks, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Mark Abbott, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Alapati Leiua, 23 James Marshall.
Date: Saturday, February 22
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)