Preview: Hurricanes v Sharks
SUPER RUGBY QUARTERFINALS: Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree knows all too well what the Sharks are capable of ahead of their quarterfinal clash in Wellington on Saturday.
The two teams met earlier this year in Round 11, with the Sharks winning 32-15 at Kings Park in Durban and it is a result that the 'Canes have not forgotten.
Plumtree, who was head coach of the Sharks for several seasons before moving back to New Zealand, pin-pointed a few of the Sharks' strengths that they would need to counter to gain the ascendency in the match.
"The Sharks know what they have to do to beat us. They have a lot of massive characters in that team," Plumtree told nzherald.co.nz.
"They manhandled us, slowed down our ball, our line-out didn't function. We turned over 28 balls.
He added: "They've got some big ball carriers and they are pretty effective choke tacklers, have a good drive and the set-piece is sound. They had the best defence in the competition, conceding the least tries of all the teams. They are a tough wall to break down, and they are a very capable side."
The Hurricanes are also well aware of their poor record against the Sharks in the last few years.
"One thing about the Sharks, they don't mind touring New Zealand," Plumtree added.
"The Hurricanes, I think, have beaten them just twice in the last eight occasions. So we have a horrible record against them."
Meanwhile, Sharks Director of Rugby Gary Gold said they will be using what they have learnt in that Round 11 fixture against their opponents on Saturday.
"From a knowledge and a conference point of view, we know that if we play well we have the ability to beat them and I thought we played particularly well that day," said Gold.
"But it is going to be a completely different kettle of fish. They are playing really well at the moment - I thought their performance at the weekend [against the Crusaders] was outstanding and Wellington is a very tough place for us to go.
"We feel confident in that we've played all five New Zealand teams; we feel the preparation is there."
Gold believes they will have to up their game in all facets of play if they are to have any chance of victory.
"They [Hurricanes] got some serious strengths. From our point of view you have to negate their strengths first and foremost. In a few of the games, we have been good with ball in hand as well and that is one of the things we tend to forget. You need to ask questions with ball in hand. Often many of them [New Zealand teams] have got a drift defence so you know there are opportunities.
"However, with their broken-field runners and offloading game, you have to have a very solid defence and you have to be pretty strict in playing in the right areas of the field, because they play well from turnover ball," Gold added.
Players to watch:
For the Hurricanes: In the pack, Ardie Savea and Dane Coles have been in phenomenal form this season. One is in the back row and the other in the front row, but they are both phenomenal with ball in hand and can cause a few problems at the breakdowns as well. In the backline, Beauden Barrett can set his outside backs alight, while scrumhalf TJ Perenara can be elusive around the rucks.
For the Sharks: In the backline Willie le Roux has got the skills to unlock any defence on the counter attack, while Jon-Paul Pietersen is still a lethal finisher with ball in hand. In the pack Keegan Daniel has the ability to disrupt the Hurricanes' ball at the breakdown and Tendai Mtawarira could be useful in the physical stuff.
Head to head: Beauden Barrett and Garth April are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of experience at this level and it will be interesting to see if the latter can match the former's pedigree on the field. There will also be a keen eye at the breakdowns - Ardie Savea and Keegan Daniel will both have an important role to play in this area of the game.
Prediction: The Sharks have won six of their last nine games against the Hurricanes, though only one of those wins came whilst in New Zealand (in 2010). The Canes have lost seven of nine finals games; both those wins were home wins however. The Hurricanes have won three and drawn one of their last five games against the Sharks on home soil including wins in each of the last two such encounters. The Hurricanes have now won their last five Super Rugby fixtures in succession; the last time they won more in a row was when they opened the 2015 with seven straight wins, a stretch that including three wins against South African opposition. The Hurricanes have won eight of their last nine games against South African teams, though the only blemish in that span came in the most recent such fixtures in a 15-32 loss to the Sharks in Round 11 this campaign. The Hurricanes will have too much firepower for the travelling Sharks and they should win by at least 15 points.