The Coastal Sharks put their unbeaten Super 15 run on the line in this weekend’s South African derby with the Northern Bulls, as defending champions the Waikato Chiefs trek to the in-form Western Force.
The Sharks, under former World Cup-winning coach Jake White, have opened their season with four wins, but face a test against the Bulls in Pretoria, where they last won three years ago.
The Durban-based Sharks are comfortable eight-point leaders of the South African conference, but tomorrow’s encounter will give a strong indication of their title credentials this season.
“Like Jake said when he took over the job, he’s here to win the competition,” Springbok and Sharks winger J.P. Pietersen said.
“He sent that message to all the boys and we’re all believing that. We’ve said every year in the past that we are going to win it, we’ve come close, but never won it. The belief is the difference. It’s probably 100 percent better than what it’s ever been,” he added.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has named Sampie Mastriet on the wing and Dewald Potgieter at No. 8 to play the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld.
“Our first two away outings were pretty disappointing and everyone stepped up after that,” Bulls captain Flip van der Merwe said. “The Sharks are not topping the log for nothing, but we have prepared well for this one. We will be ready.”
Two-time champions the Waikato Chiefs have used 30 players in just three matches this season and again will be injury-hit when they face the Force.
Charlie Ngatai and Robbie Fruean were the Chiefs’ preferred midfield pairing in wins over the Crusaders and Highlanders, but both will sit out the trip to Perth.
The Chiefs, who lead the New Zealand conference by five points from the Crusaders, are to meet a Force side full of confidence after wins over the Melbourne Rebels and Otago Highlanders.
Waikato lost their first game in Perth in 2008, but have won on their past two visits and the Force are eyeing a big scalp this weekend.
The Queensland Reds have to adjust to Johannesburg’s high altitude for their challenging game against the Golden Lions tomorrow.
The Lions have won three of their five matches this season and defeated the Auckland Blues last weekend, while the Reds fell to the Sharks in Durban.
The Reds trail the ACT Brumbies by four points in the Australian conference, with the Brumbies hosting South Africa’s Western Stormers in Canberra tomorrow.
The Brumbies took over at the top of the conference after downing the New South Wales Waratahs at home last weekend, but they have had trouble with the Cape Town-based team in the past.
The Stormers, who have lost to the Crusaders and the Chiefs on their Australasian tour, downed the Brumbies 16-3 on their last trip to Canberra three years ago.
In this weekend’s remaining games, the Waratahs host the Rebels, the Highlanders are at home to the Wellington Hurricanes and the Blues face South Africa’s Central Cheetahs in Auckland.
The Crusaders have the bye.