Two of the three unbeaten teams in this year’s Super Rugby tournament will collide when the Sharks host the Brumbies in Durban on Saturday.
Something’s got to give and come Saturday, barring the first draw of the season, someone’s 0 will go at Kings Park.
The other team yet to taste defeat this season, the Bulls, will also be in action on Saturday - they travel to Christchurch to face a Crusaders team in search of their first win of the season.
The three-time champions made history with their first ever win in Auckland last weekend and they now have the opportunity to achieve a historic New Zealand whitewash.
In Saturday’s other fixture, the Reds will look to continue their remarkable home record when they welcome the winless Western Force to Suncorp Stadium.
Quintin van Jaarsveld looks at Saturday’s action!
Crusaders v Bulls
(AMI Stadium, Christchurch - kick-off; 19.35; 08.35 SA time; 06.35 GMT)
The next chapter in the storied rivalry between New Zealand and South Africa’s most successful Super Rugby sides will be written at AMI Stadium, and hours removed from the match, it remains very much an open book.
Against expectations, the Bulls are unbeaten and top the South African Conference. The men from Pretoria are a proud bunch and after falling off the radar in recent years, Pierre Spies’ fast-developing side have fired an early warning shot.
Following back-to-back home victories over the Stormers and Western Force, the Bulls last weekend displayed great character in their first away game of the season.
Written off ahead of the match, the visitors overcame the odds and the travel factor to achieve a feat that eluded even the great Bulls side that dominated Super Rugby under the leadership of Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez in 2009/10.
It was a superb performance; a watershed win, but can they do it again? The Crusaders may be winless, but they are traditionally slow starters and notoriously difficult to beat at home.
They remain a quality side, two away defeats don’t change that, and they will be fired up to get their campaign back on track in their first home game of the season.
While they would never admit it, one sensed the Blues, following consecutive bonus point wins, underestimated the Bulls. They paid the price, but along with their loss went any chance of the Crusaders making the same mistake.
Kieran Read and company will be ready and would have spent the week preparing for the best version of the Bulls. They have highlighted the line-out as a key area, with the Bulls being renowned for their driving maul and quick ball off the top.
Spies expects the Crusaders to put particular importance on contesting in the line-outs, but the Springbok No.8 is confident the Bulls will remain clinical at the set-piece, where they have lost only three of their own throws.
“I'm sure there will be a lot of focus to try and disrupt our play from there [line-outs],” he said.
“It is all about the type of game a team wants to play and as a result, line-outs are important to us. It is important that we are accurate in that [line-outs] and create a solid platform from where we can launch our attacks.”
Spies said they are under no illusions about the enormity of the task at hand but felt that the victory over the Blues has bolstered their self-belief.
“The Crusaders are very good in the set-pieces, scrums and line-outs. They put you under pressure in all aspects of the game, both in terms of the breakdown and the set-pieces,” he said.
“They also have world-class players all over the park and also posses a great kicking game - it is a very difficult challenge. The record will show that when we play here [in Christchurch], they normally win and when they play in Pretoria, we normally win - it is a big challenge.
“The key is that we have a gameplan we want to execute and to do it away from home is always that much tougher.”
Prediction: It will be trench warfare up front reminiscent of a Test match. The Crusaders should have the edge at scrum time and the Bulls ascendency in the line-out, so the battle at the breakdown between Matt Todd and Deon Stegmann will be vital. The Bulls will give the Crusaders a scare, but the men from Pretoria will run out of steam in the latter stages. Crusaders by seven.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Jurgen Visser, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Jan Serfontein.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Reds v Western Force:
(Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane - kick-off; 18.40; 08.40 GMT)
The Reds welcome back general Will Genia from a lengthy injury lay-off and are overwhelming favourites to come away with their third home win.
There’s a clear gulf in the strength and depth of these sides and we expect that will be reflected in the scoreline.
The Force’s best bet is to turn the contest into a dogfight, but even then they should be outmuscled and, with Genia back, outsmarted by the 2011 champions.
Genia’s return will galvanise the Reds and boost their consistent improvement since the first-round defeat to the Brumbies.
Quade Cooper is a different player when he plays alongside Genia, and if the home pack are able to provide the front foot ball that is expected of them against the struggling Force, their star halfback pairing will ensure the Reds rip the visitors to shreds.
Prediction: While the Force could stay in touch early on, the Reds will ultimately pick up a full house and pull clear by 14 points.
15 Jono Lance, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (captain), 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ed O'Donoghue, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Nick Frisby, 21 Mike Harris, 22 Aidan Toua.
Western Force: 15 Will Tupou, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan (captain).
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Phoenix Battye, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Mick Snowden, 21 Junior Rasolea, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffman (Australia), Matt O'Brien (Australia)
TMO: Steve Leszczynski (Australia)
Sharks v Brumbies
(Kings Park, Durban - kick-off; 17.05; 15.05 GMT)
Kings Park will host the game of the weekend as Jake White’s Brumbies chase a record-breaking victory over the Sharks in Durban.
Good teams win at home, but exceptional teams win home and away, and a major part of White’s transformation of the two-time champions since his arrival in Canberra has been instilling the belief that they can beat any team on their stomping ground.
His methods are simple; there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Do the basics well, play in the right areas, limit mistakes and take the chances when they present themselves.
That’s been the Brumbies’ blueprint under White - pragmatic and effective - and the results speak for themselves.
They sit atop the table and in addition to extending their unblemished record this season, White’s charges will be chasing a sixth consecutive victory away from Canberra - a feat no other team have achieved in the 18-year history of the tournament.
Kings Park hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Brumbies, though, their last victory at the venue dating back to 2007.
They’ve scored 10 tries in their three wins, behind only the Blues (11) and Chiefs (14), but it’s their stoic defence that’s been their greatest weapon.
They’ve leaked just a solitary try and are yet to concede a point in the second half. White’s World Cup-winning Springbok team of 2007 were known for their aggressive defence and the former Bok boss said it’s no secret that his modus operandi remains the same.
''We use defence to strangle teams and turn the ball over,'' White said. ''We see defence as an opportunity to attack.
''We've got some really quick players out wide, so if we turn the ball over and send the ball out wide, there's no reason why we can't tear teams to pieces.''
The Sharks, boasting Springbok danger men like Pat Lambie, JP Pietersen and Frans Steyn, have failed to fire offensively - managing just two tries in their three matches - yet they remain unbeaten, due in large part to Lambie’s unerring goal-kicking.
Steyn did an admirable job leading the side, but the Sharks will have more direction with regular captain Keegan Daniel back from injury.
The Springbok livewire lacks the power of the injured Jean Deysel, but he’s a great link between forwards and backs and his tireless work ethic inspires those around him.
With David Pocock suffering a serious knee injury last weekend, White has been forced to overhaul his back row. Skipper Ben Mowen shifts from No.8 to the side of the scrum with veteran George Smith and the imposing Fotu Auelua completing the loose trio.
The Sharks’ all-Springbok combination of Marcell Coetzee, Daniel and Ryan Kankowski will have a significant speed advantage that they will look to capitalise on to starve the Brumbies of possession.
White is one of the best coaches Super Rugby has ever seen and it will be interesting to see how he approaches the battle of the breakdown.
Prediction: The Sharks’ clash against the Stormers would have served as ideal preparation for Saturday’s showdown and if they show similar composure and patience as they did in downing the Cape side, they should pip the Brumbies. Sharks by three.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Keegan Daniel (captain), 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Fotu Auelua, 7 George Smith, 6 Ben Mowen (captain), 5 Sam Carter, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruaidhri Murphy, 18 Scott Fardy, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Robbie Coleman, 22 Clyde Rathbone.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
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