PREVIEW: Blues v Sharks

Getty Images

Thursday, April 14, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

ROUND EIGHT: Blues v Sharks, Saturday, 16 April, 7.35pm, Eden Park, Auckland

The historic statistics don't make good reading for Blues fans – the Sharks have won their last 10 games against the Blues. Added to that the Sharks have won their last four away games. But one telling fact for the Blues is they have the best possession figures of any side this year, average 17min 54sec with the ball, more than four minutes more than the Sharks. Their records are similar with the Sharks on 16 points from three wins and a draw compared to two wins and a draw for the Blues on 12 points. In 22 games between the sides, the Blues have won eight and the Sharks 14.

The scrap for lineout possession shapes as a key area for the visitors through their locks Etienne Oosthuizen and Stephan Lewies. They'll be up against one of the most experienced locks in the competition in Josh Bekhuis while Hoani Matenga is one of the newcomers. But it was little wonder Sharks coach Gary Gold was looking for parity in set-piece play as the Blues have achieve 89 percent lineout success compared to 81 percent for the Sharks. Losing one lineout in five as opposed to one in nine can make a big difference for sides.

Springbok fullback Willie le Roux brings an extra challenge for the home team, similar to that faced when attempting to deal with Damien McKenzie from the Chiefs, a fullback who likes to run with the ball. However, the Blues have been more effective in terms of metres made with 439 as opposed to the 377 by the Sharks and the Blues have beaten 23.5 defenders while the Sharks have beaten 17.3. What makes le Roux most effective is his ability on the chip kick ahead, and also his liaison with two of the sharper wings in the competition, JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo.

News that flanker Blake Gibson could be out for seven or eight weeks for the Blues as a result of a broken thumb has put pressure on the Blues to achieve the sort of work rate he was bringing to the side. At the moment the experienced Tanerau Latimer has plenty to offer the side and it will be interesting to see how quickly he can settle into the tempo of the side while Kara Pryor is an ideal back-up. Support play is vital for the type of game the Blues play and it could be crucial if they are able to move the big Sharks team around the paddock.


Blues: 1.Sam Prattley, 2.James Parsons (captain), 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Hoani Matenga, 5.Josh Bekhuis, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Tanerau Latimer/Kara Pryor, 8.Steven Luatua, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Ihaia West, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Piers Francis, 13.Rene Ranger, 14.Rieko Ioane, 15.Lolagi Visinia.

Reserves: 16.Quentin MacDonald, 17.Namatahi Waa, 18.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19.Kara Pryor/Joe Edwards, 20.Akira Ioane, 21.Billy Guyton, 22.Matt McGahan, 23.George Moala.

Sharks: 1.Tendai Mtawarira (captain), 2.Franco Marais, 3.Lourens Adriaanse, 4.Etienne Oosthuizen, 5.Stephan Lewies, 6.Daniel du Preez, 7.Jean-Luc du Preez, 8.Philip van der Walt, 9.Cobus Reinach, 10.Joe Pietersen, 11.Lwazi Mvovo, 12.Andre Esterhuizen, 13.Paul Jordaan, 14.JP Pietersen, 15.Willie le Roux.

Reserves: 16.Kyle Cooper, 17.Thomas du Toit, 18.Coenie Oosthuizen, 19.Hyron Andrews, 20.Keegan Daniel, 21.Michael Claassens, 22.Garth April, 23.Odwa Ndungane.