Preview: Hurricanes v Sharks

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Friday, May 8, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 9 May at 7.35pm
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Played: 16, 1998-2014 (DNP 2013)
Hurricanes wins: 7
Sharks wins: 8
Draws: 1

Hurricanes points: 410
Sharks points: 404

Last match: Sharks 27 Hurricanes 9, 22.02.14 in Durban

Round 13 teams:

Form: The Hurricanes are the form team of the 2015 competition, and their status as the leading side after 12 rounds has Chris Boyd’s troops on the verge of final’s qualification.

In the past, 43 tournament points, the current mark of the ‘Canes, has been enough to finish the season in the top six position, so in theory the men in yellow have already qualified for the knockout stage of the season – now is the time to lock up home final’s rights.

With just three home matches remaining in their last six matches, the Hurricanes will not want to trip up against their final international regular season opponent.

The Sharks have, despite a star-studded roster, struggled in 2015, winning just four games from 11, while three defeats in front of their home support in Durban hasn’t helped their chances.

The usually reliable defence of Gary Gold’s troops hasn’t been on display, conceding 289 points and 31 tries this year, so shoring up their efforts here will be vital against a Hurricanes side that is beginning to score points almost at will.

Key players: The absence of Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara and Julian Savea will test the resources of the team, while Chris Smylie and James Marshall will be tasked with guiding the Hurricanes backline from nine and ten.

Chris Eves gets a deserved start and will be up against a very experienced Sharks pack, but with the likes of Ben Franks and Jeremy Thrush in the tight five expect plenty of poise from the host’s scrum.

The Sharks have been strengthened by a number of internationals, and an all-international front row will make sure the Hurricanes set piece is put under scrutiny.

The backline, with Springboks Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen in the midfield, hasn’t been firing this year but one of the best combinations they have fielded all year could spark fireworks at Westpac Stadium.

Squad update: Eves will start his first Investec Super Rugby match this weekend when the Hurricanes take on the Sharks at Westpac Stadium.

The 27-year-old has played 21 matches for the Hurricanes, but this will be his first time running onto the park in the starting XV, with coach Chris Boyd giving Reggie Goodes a break from starting duties.

Eves is one of a number of changes to this week’s Hurricanes side which includes a returning Victor Vito, who has been out with a calf injury. Boyd has also opted to rest wing Julian Savea and halfback TJ Perenara, with Matt Proctor and Chris Smylie coming into the line-up.

New Zealand under-20 vice captain, Otere Black, has returned from the Oceania Rugby Junior Championship to take a spot on the bench.

Hooker Dane Coles was unavailable for selection this week after suffering a calf strain in the team’s match against the Crusaders last week.

Gold has been able to select his Springbok front row for the first time in six weeks to bolster the pack upfront, while also returning Francois Steyn and Renaldo Bothma back to the starting line-up. The big, physical are players expected to play a big role on the weekend against the log-leaders.

“The Hurricanes are a team on an absolute high at the moment, their performance against the Crusaders was outstanding and this is probably going to be a big challenge for our players at this moment in time, with our backs against the wall,” explains Gold.

“We’re playing the best team in the competition, it’s going to be an unbelievable challenge, but one that’s going to make us grow as a group.”

Lwazi Mvovo has moved to fullback, a straight swap with Odwa Ndungane while Lionel Cronje wears the number 10 jersey, partnering Stefan Ungerer who gets his first start at scrumhalf.