Blues v Sharks preview

Eden Park, Auckland, 19.35 (7.35 GMT)

The Sharks come off the back of their thrashing of the Reds, a victory that has served to re-ignite the psychological drive of their campaign – and the 5-pointer came in handy too.

But the Blues have been playing dynamic, exciting, and hard-edged rugby all year, a style of play that has been characterised by their superb support play, allowing pacy runners to offload to other pacy runners in the tackle zone.

The Sharks have added a grit upfront to their game this year, but that seemed to come at an expense of some of their attacking flair.

But last week’s victory demonstrated that the likes of Waylon Murray, JP Pietersen and Francois Steyn do have it in them to score some scintillating tries.

The only question is, can they do it against the vastly superior to the Reds outfit of the Blues?

This fixture used to be the highlight of the Super rugby season, but both teams have been through some lows since their heyday in the late Nineties. This year is set to change all that, as two veritable powerhouses get ready to do battle on Saturday.

Sharks coach Dick Muir was generous in his appraisal of his opposition, and rightly so.

“They’re certainly a formidable side – they’ve got a good pack of forwards, a good backline and a great balance. They play a nice brand of rugby and they’ve proven in the tournament that they can deliver anything at anytime.

“It will certainly be a good challenge for us,” Muir added.

Asked what aspect of the game will be most important this week, Muir said shutting down the Blues’ dangerous runners.

“Our defence last week let us down a bit and we want to work on that,” he added.

If the Sharks defend well, and if they continue to add some attacking sheen to their grizzly grunt upfront, they could upset the log leaders at home.

They will need to be wary of the Blues bench however, which is loaded with All Black talent.

Prediction: Man for man, the Sharks can actually edge out their opponents, but this Blues side looks like something special, and the rejuvenated Sharks side may not have enough in them to beat the Blues away from home and on their third game on tour. Nevertheless, the Sharks look like they might be ready to peak at just the right time, and we are backing South Africa’s premier side to pull this one off. Sharks by five points or less.


Sharks: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Bob Skinstad, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Johan Ackermann, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Warren Britz, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Butch James, 22 Adrian Jacobs

Blues: 15 Ben Atiga, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 Steve Devine, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Angus Macdonald, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Derren Witcombe, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Nick White, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Justin Collins, 20 David Gibson, 21 David Holwell, 22 Joe Rokocoko.

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Touch judges: James Leckie (Australia), Lyndon Bray (New Zealand)
Television match official: Chris Rooney (New Zealand)
Assessor: Alan Riley (New Zealand), Dennis Immelman (South Africa)

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