Preview: Sharks v Chiefs

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Saturday, March 21, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Sunday 22 March at 6.10am (NZDT)
Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban

Played: 18, 1997-2013 (DNP 2014)
Sharks wins: 8
Chiefs wins: 10

Sharks points: 444
Chiefs wins: 456

Last match: Chiefs 37 Sharks 29, 27.04.13 in Hamilton

Squad update: The Sharks have made just one change to their starting line-up after forward Pieter-Steph du Toit was ruled out of rugby for the next few months.

Marco Wentzel takes his place in the second row while the remainder of the impressive Sharks pack remains intact.

This is despite some concerns that the likes of Pat Lambie, Marcell Coetzee and Cobus Reinach would be rested as the trio have played in five matches already, but the Sharks coaches are in regular conversation with Springboks management.

Chiefs mentor Dave Rennie has made nine changes to the match day squad, four of those in the run on side.

Jamie Mackintosh and Siate Tokolahi will start the fixture after their impressive contributions off the bench last weekend.

The midfield is revamped, with Andrew Horrell and Seta Tamanivalu taking over the duties from the injured pair of Tim Nanai-Williams and Sonny Bill Williams.

Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna, Mitchell Graham, Johan Bardoul and Hosea Gear are the new replacements.

Form: The Sharks opening to the season has confounded some, picked as a powerful contender, but they slumped to a 1-3 first month which had them rooted to the bottom of the table.

Losses in Pretoria and Cape Town were followed by a pride restoring 27-10 victory in Bloemfontein against the Cheetahs, and now the team returns to Durban for their first match against a franchise outside the Republic.

The Chiefs victory in Cape Town was in the epic category, overcoming a horror show via the scrum where the Stormers big men were eventually outran by the fit touring forwards.

It restored order to the two-time champion’s season after the Highlanders shocked them in Hamilton, but take nothing away from the fact that the Brumbies, Crusaders, Highlanders and Stormers represent a tough run of opposition.

And Rennie’s troops have looked right at home despite the calibre of opposition and will look to duplicate the feats of the Hurricanes earlier this season and take the all-important double in South Africa.

Key players: Although there was a fear that some Springboks would be rested, the Sharks are practically full strength, while many of their major players – somewhat dormant earlier in the campaign – are beginning to look fearsome.

The Sharks tight five is led by captain Bismarck du Plessis while brother Jannie and Tendai Mtawarira will believe they can target a Chiefs front row with two changes.

Lambie will want an impressive display considering the shadow Handre Pollard is beginning to cast from Pretoria, coming up against Aaron Cruden who eventually was the quiet mastermind who helped his team down the Stormers.

However Francois Steyn and JP Pietersen combine again in the centres, and will be licking their lips knowing that two of the visitor’s midfield attacking gems are missing.

The Chiefs forwards know they will be up against it, but Tokolahi and Mackintosh were vital components of the Waikato based side’s efforts against the Stormers.

James Lowe, one of the best attacking wingmen in the competition, will shoulder extra attacking responsibility without SBW in the team, but Seta Tamanivalu is no slouch and will provide punch from the centre channel.

Damian McKenzie has been full value in providing some strategic support to the likes of Cruden and Brad Weber, and they will be tasked with shutting down a Sharks offensive that will likely generate from their forwards.