The Chiefs take on the Sharks in a crunch SuperRugby encounter at Kings Park on Saturday eager to show that they are still a winning outfit independent of midfield maestros Sonny Bill Williams and Tim Nanai-Williams.
Williams is recovering from concussion while Nanai-Williams has a finger injury, robbing the Chiefs of arguably the best centre combination in the competition. But with a hard-working, combative pack, two of the better loose forwards in Sam Cane and Liam Messam, the class of Aaron Cruden at flyhalf and still plenty of pace and power amongst the backs, the New Zealand side remain a formidable outfit.
The other important team news from the Chiefs camp is that experienced loosehead Jamie Mackintosh is back in the starting line-up to counter the presence of veteran tighthead Jannie du Plessis in the Sharks team.
The home side’s decision to keep playing their Springboks, Marcell Coetzee, Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach all featuring in their sixth straight game, has dominated the news this week but it serves to illustrate the magnitude of the task ahead of them.
Coach Gary Gold is under no illusions and has given the Chiefs the favourites tag.
“The Chiefs are a championship outfit with outstanding strength and depth and they will go into this match as favourites. They have a strong pack of forwards and one of the most exciting backlines in the competition and are well-coached. We look forward to the challenge of measuring ourselves against one of the most dangerous sides. It’s going to be an exciting match-up,” Gold said.
The Sharks’ three defeats this season have come in matches where their game has been littered with errors and they simply cannot leave the ball lying around for the Chiefs to counter-attack.
“The thing about the Chiefs is that they are lethal off turnover ball so you just can’t make any mistakes or you get punished. Even kicking too much or kicking poorly, you just have to look at the statistics boasted by [wing] James Lowe to realise the folly of that.
“So far this season Lowe has run more than 500 metres and he has broken 15 tackles. Those are phenomenal stats and he is a big, explosive guy, and we are going to have to think very carefully before presenting him with an opportunity to run by kicking on to their back three,” Gold said.
|Sharks: 15-SP Marais, 14-Odwa Ndungane, 13-JP Pietersen, 12-Francois Steyn, 11-Lwazi Mvovo, 10-Pat Lambie, 9-Cobus Reinach, 8-Ryan Kankowski, 7-Renaldo Bothma, 6-Marcell Coetzee, 5-Marco Wentzel, 4-Mouritz Botha, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Kyle Cooper, 17-Dale Chadwick, 18-Lourens Adriaanse, 19-Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20-Daniel du Preez, 21-Conrad Hoffmann, 22-Andre Esterhuizen, 23-Waylon Murray.
Chiefs: 15-Damian McKenzie, 14-Bryce Heem, 13-Seta Tamanivalu, 12-Andrew Horrell, 11-James Lowe, 10-Aaron Cruden, 9-Brad Weber, 8-Michael Leitch, 7-Sam Cane, 6-Liam Messam, 5-Michael Fitzgerald, 4-Matt Symons, 3-Siate Tokolahi, 2- Hika Elliott, 1-Jamie Mackintosh. Replacements – 16-Rhys Marshall, 17-Ben Tameifuna, 18-Mitchell Graham, 19-Michael Allardice, 20-Johan Bardoul, 21-Augustine Pulu, 22-Tom Marshall, 23-Hosea Gear.