The quarter finals kick off this weekend, with the Sharks having secured their place in the top eight after a somewhat less than resounding defeat of the Sunwolves last week. Still, a win is a win and it got us where we needed to be so we’ll take it.
The same cannot be said for the Lions, who’s calculated risk in sending an understrength team to face the Jaguares did not pay off for them or us. Of course, they were always assured of their place in the quarters, but by losing to the Jaguares they lost their place at the top of the combined log. Had they stayed in that position, the Sharks would have had a short flight to the Highveld to take them on. Instead, the Sharks now face the Hurricanes in Wellington, while the Lions, who still maintain a home quarter because they topped the Africa 2 conference, will play the Crusaders. I suspect they would rather have taken on the Sharks, given that the Crusaders thumped them earlier this season, but let’s see what happens. They’ve been playing fantastically, so I think they can pull it off. The other South African team in the qualifiers is the Stormers, who take on the Chiefs on Saturday evening. Given that this will be their first match against Kiwi opposition all season, I would be very surprised if they can win, even though they do have homeground advantage.
The Sharks on the other hand were one of the few sides to beat the Hurricanes this season, and did so convincingly. Everyone and their dogs seem to have written off the men from KZN, with the pundits handing the game to the ‘Canes by between 10 and 30 points. I think they may have forgotten that convincing win, along with the fact that the Sharks actually have a great success rate against the Hurricanes. And we LOVE to play as underdogs. Of course, my optimism is slightly tempered by the fact that Lambie is still out of the squad (he has yet to pass his fitness test, post-concussion, so I will save everyone another rant about stupid SANZAR rules because he couldn’t have played anyway). But the team is bolstered by the return of Du Preez, Le Roux and Jordaan, and Mtawarira is also back from his well-earned rest so the Sharks are looking formidable nonetheless. It’s not going to be easy, I have no doubts about that, especially with the ‘Canes seeming to have just hit their stride, but I do think we can edge it. Oh what a glorious upset that would be.
The Sharks team to face the Hurricanes on Saturday is:
15. Willie le Roux, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Garth April, 9. Michael Claasens, 8. Philip van der Walt, 7. Jean-Luc du Preez, 6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Stephan Lewies, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Coenie Oosthuizen, 2. Franco Marais, 1. Tendai Mtawarira (Captain)
16. Chiliboy Rallepele, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Thomas du Toit 19. Hyron Andrews, 20. Tera Mtembu, 21. Stefan Ungerer, 22.Curwin Bosch, 23. Odwa Ndungane
My SuperBru picks for the qualifiers are (all times shown are SA time):
Brumbies v Highlanders (22 Jul 10:00) Highlanders by 7
Hurricanes v Sharks (23 Jul 09:35) Sharks by 3
Lions v Crusaders (23 Jul 16:30) Lions by 5
Stormers v Chiefs (23 Jul 19:00) Chiefs by 10