In fact that has been a trademark of all Jake White-coached teams. They may not produce the most aesthetically pleasing rugby, but they win and get into play-offs. And with their Australasian tour just over a week away – this being their last home game for over a month – victory on Saturday is more important that at any stage this season if the Sharks are to retain that No.1 ranking through to the play-offs in July.
Sharks Director of Rugby Jake White said the challenge for his team is to focus on getting a result against the Highlanders and not look past Friday’s outing. “We go away [on tour] the next day, it’s our last home game for a long while and we have to keep the momentum going, whether it’s the Highlanders here or the Rebels [in Melbourne] the following week,” White said.
The 2007 World Cup-winning former Springbok coach, White, said he was expecting a typical South Africa-versus-New Zealand encounter – a brutal battle. “New Zealand teams are always strong,” he said, adding: “They [the Highlanders] are a good team, they have some good players, Ben Smith and Aaron Smith are probably the two form players in New Zealand, and have been for the last couple of seasons, not just this year.”
The Highlanders arrived in Durban this fresh off a bye and on the back of back-to-back victories. “There are two ways of looking at it: One, you’re rusty because you didn’t play the week before, or two, you’ve had two weeks to prepare yourself and freshen up mentally,” White said. “I don’t think you can ever work out in theory if you have a rest you’re better, or you lose your momentum.
“The challenge for us is to focus on getting a result.” The Highlanders finished last year second from bottom on the standings with just three wins. This year they already have one more win and they still have nine games to play.
“There is no doubt that this year they are way better than they were last year,” White admitted.
2013: Highlanders won 25-22, Dunedin
2012: Sharks won 28-16, Durban
2010: Sharks won 30-16, Dunedin
2009: Sharks won 23-15, Durban
2008: Sharks won 19-17, Dunedin
2007: Sharks won 23-16, Durban
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Ryan Kankowski, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 John Hardie..
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)