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PREVIEW: Blues v Sharks

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Thursday, March 29, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Blues v Sharks, Eden Park, Saturday, March 31, 7.35pm

Played: 23
Won: Blues 9, Sharks 14
Last time: Blues 23-18 Sharks, Kings Park, Durban, April 16, 2016

FORM

The Blues have been typically up and down as witnessed by their effort in storming home from behind to beat the Lions in Johannesburg, then turning around a week later and looking completely out of sorts against the Stormers. Coach Tana Umaga was not mincing his words about the seven selection changes and the need for some positive results. The Sharks are even more desperate than the Blues knowing this game is probably their last chance to gain some winner's points from their Australasian tour. They were hammered last week by the Rebels and by the Brumbies ahead of that and they face the Hurricanes next week. Expected to do well this season, the Sharks have failed to impress. They have made two changes to their side with Andre Esterhuizen back to full fitness and named at second five-eighths ahead of Marius Louw while Philip van der Walt has flown in to take suspended flanker Jacques Vermeulen's place.

IOANE'S TEST

Necessity is said to be the mother of invention and while at the start of the season Umaga didn't see much point to starting his world-class wing Reiko Ioane in the midfield, he soon changed his mind by pitching him in at centre, and he got reward as the All Black showed why he is such a good performer in the role. But injury to Sonny Bill Williams has seen Umaga move Ioane in one more position for the Sharks game. There are shades of Umaga's own career path in the move and while his transformation took place over a few more seasons than has been the case for Ioane, at least it shows it can be done. It is a test for Ioane but is it also a risk for Umaga?

SPIRITS HIGH

Sharks coach Robert du Preez said in spite of their woes on tour the Sharks were still feeling positive. "There are no issues in the team, nothing sinister; we've lost two games and this happens. It's not the first time a touring team has lost two games. In saying that, it's obviously very disappointing for us, we've worked incredibly hard, the team and the coaches. There was no faulting the effort against the Rebels, although the accuracy and the execution was there and it's something we've been working on. The Rebels played good rugby, it must be admitted. The boys are very disappointed and frustrated because they know they're letting the fans and themselves down. But we have to keep on working harder, that starts with us coaches because we're all in this together. We're not pointing fingers, we have to fix this, together I know we will."

THE SCOOP

Blues fans may get a look into their side's future if the side is able to perform close to their maximum on Saturday. The inside back combination of Ruru, Perofeta and Ioane has long-term written all over it and Saturday will be their first chance to show their individual and collective skills for the betterment of the side.

FAST FACT

The Blues haven't lost to a South African side on Eden Park since Round Four in 2015 while the Sharks have won four of their last five away games against the Blues. (Opta)

TEAMS:

Blues: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.James Parsons (captain), 3.Mike Tamoaieta, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu, 5.Josh Goodhue, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Murphy Taramai, 8.Akira Ioane; 9.Jonathan Ruru, 10.Stephen Perofeta, 11.Melani Nanai, 12.Rieko Ioane, 13.George Moala, 14.Jordan Trainor, 15.Michael Collins.

Substitutes: 16.Leni Apisai, 17.Ross Wright, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Jimmy Tupou, 20.Kara Pryor, 21.Sam Nock, 22.Bryn Gatland, 23.TJ Faiane

Sharks: 1.Beast Mtawarira, 2.Akker van der Merwe, 3.Thomas du Toit, 4.Ruan Botha (captain), 5.Stephen Lewies, 6.Philip van der Walt, 7.Jean-Luc du Preez, 8.Tera Mtembu, 9.Louis Schreuder, 10.Robert du Preez, 11.Lwazi Mvovo, 12.Andre Esterhuizen, 13.Lukhanyo Am, 14.Sbu Nkosi, 15.Curwin Bosch.

Substitutes: 16.Franco Marais, 17.Juan Schoeman, 18.John-Hubert Meyer, 19.Hyron Andrews, 20.Tyler Paul, 21.Cameron Wright, 22.Marius Louw, 23.Kobus van Wyk.