PREVIEW: Sharks v Highlanders

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Friday, May 4, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Sharks v Highlanders, Growthpoint Stadium, Durban, 3.15am, May 6 (NZT)

Played: 21
Won: Sharks 12, Highlanders 9
Last time: Highlanders 14-15 Sharks, April 22, 2016, Dunedin.


The Sharks have three wins from nine games this year. They went down to the Lions (19-26) in their first game of the year then drew with the Waratahs (24-24) before scoring their first win over the Sunwolves (50-22). Then on the road in Australasia they lost to the Brumbies (17-24) and the Rebels (14-46) but beat the Blues (63-40) and pushed the Hurricanes all the way before losing in injury time (37-38). Back in South Africa they went down to the Bulls (10-40) but bounced back to beat the Stormers (24-17) last weekend. The Highlanders have had better success winning their first three at home, the Blues (41-34), the Stormers (33-15) and the Crusaders (25-17). But they were stopped by the Hurricanes (12-29) and the Chiefs (22-27) before beating the Brumbies (43-17), the Blues (34-16) and the Bulls (29-28).


Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has some careful planning to do in the weeks ahead as he attempts to meet the All Blacks' coaching demands for his players to achieve rest requirements ahead of the June window. Still to complete their two-game breaks are: Ben and Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock and Dillon Hunt while Waisake Naholo has one game to go. Ben Smith has played 631 minutes this year, the most by any of the Highlanders. Whitelock has played 617 and Aaron Smith 525. Dillon Hunt has 558 minutes while Naholo has played 538 minutes.


If scrummaging is a concern for the Highlanders after they were pushed around by the Bulls last week then the inclusion of Springbok prop Beast Mtawarira in the Sharks side is not the best news. He had been out with a groin injury. Akker van der Merwe has been named at hooker ahead of Chiliboy Ralepelle while Tyler Paul has replace Stephan Lewies at lock. Sharks back Marius Louw said "Playing a New Zealand side is always a step up for everyone. But, they also know that we are on a good streak at the moment so they will also up their game against us too. They know what we are able to do against New Zealand sides, so it is going to be a tough game."


Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith has been a key contributor in mastering try scoring assists for his side this year. He has been involved in 10 tries in 2018, scoring three himself and providing seven assists for others. That puts him alongside Crusaders wing Manasa Mataele, who has scored seven tries and made three assists, at the top of the try scoring assists in the competition.


The Sharks haven't hosted the Highlanders since 2014 while the Highlanders have won their last five regular season games in South Africa. (Opta)


Sharks: 1.Beast Mtawarira, 2.Akker van der Merwe, 3.Thomas du Toit, 4.Tyler Paul, 5.Ruan Botha (captain), 6.Philip van der Walt, 7.Jean-Luc du Preez, 8.Dan du Preez, 9.Cameron Wright, 10.Rob du Preez, 11.Makazole Mapimpi, 12.Andre Esterhuizen, 13.Lukhanyo Am, 14.Sbu Nkosi, 15.Curwin Bosch.

Substitutes: 16.Franco Marais, 17.Juan Schoeman, 18.Ross Geldenhuys, 19.Stephan Lewies, 20.Jacques Vermeulen, 21.Louis Schreuder, 22.Marius Louw, 23.Lwazi Mvovo.

Highlanders: 1.Aki Seiuli, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Tyrel Lomax, 4.Alex Ainley, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Shannon Frizell, 7.Dillon Hunt, 8.Luke Whitelock, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Patelesio Tomkinson, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Rob Thompson, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Ben Smith (captain).

Substitutes: 16.Ash Dixon (captain), 17.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18.Kalolo Tuiloma, 19.Jackson Hemopo, 20.Elliot Dixon, 21.Kayne Hammington, 22.Josh Ioane, 23.Matt Faddes/Josh McKay.