South Africa's Coastal Sharks face a moment of truth against the toughest team in rugby's Super 14 when they put their chances of a home play-off on the line against the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday. The Sharks are feeling the effects of five demanding weeks on the road in Australia and New Zealand.
France flyhalf Frederic Michalak could be out of action for six months after tearing a ligament in his left knee during a Super 14 match in Sydney on Saturday. Michalak, who has played 50 tests for France, hyper-extended his knee nine minutes into the Sharks' 25-10 loss to the New South Wales Waratahs.
Leaders Canterbury Crusaders and the Sharks will be under extra scrutiny this weekend about how they react to last week's first defeats in rugby's Super 14 series. The moody Auckland Blues are bracing for a backlash from the chastened Crusaders, whose unbeaten eight-match record was unceremoniously ended by the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Sharks put their unbeaten record on the line in their opening Australasian tour match of the Super 14 rugby series against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday. The Durban-based team, along with table-topping Canterbury Crusaders, are the only two teams yet to taste defeat in the southern hemisphere provincial competition.
Crusaders coach Robbie Deans is expecting the toughest match so far for his unbeaten team in Friday's New Zealand Super 14 rugby derby against the Hurricanes in Wellington. The six-time champions have looked dynamic in winning their first six games of the southern hemisphere provincial series.
After a flying start to the season, the powerful Canterbury Crusaders are giving key players a breather for their Super 14 match against tail enders the Cheetahs on Saturday. Despite making six changes, the match remains crucial for the Crusaders with pressure on the regular bench-warmers to maintain the team's unbeaten record.
Flanker Keegan Daniel scored a 16-second try to give the Sharks a perfect start en route to a 22-17 triumph over the Auckland Blues in a Super 14 thriller on Saturday. Daniel dotted down again as the home team took a 19-3 half-time advantage and then withstood fierce second-half pressure.
Frederic Michalak is an anomaly in the migration patterns, the maverick flyhalf the sole French player moving to South Africa to play while many Boks head the other way. It now seems almost voguish that every French rugby team have at least a couple of South Africans on their books.
Auckland Blues edged ahead of Canterbury Crusaders to continue New Zealand's early season dominance of rugby's Super 14 competition with comprehensive victories in South Africa this weekend. The Blues and Crusaders, who between them have won nine of the 12 Super tournaments back to 1996, maintained their unbeaten starts to the Southern Hemisphere provincial series.
The Auckland Blues took the outright lead in rugby's Super 14 when they racked up 50 points for the second straight week against a South African opponent. The Blues followed last week's 55-10 win over the Lions with a 50-26 win Saturday over the Cheetahs to secure their third straight bonus point and to open a one-point lead over their compatriots, the Canterbury Crusaders.
After a pretty routine first half in which the Stormers, so magnificent in defence, had all but stolen a 10-0 lead over the Sharks in their Super 14 rugby match at Durban's Absa Stadium, they gave away four late penalties to indiscipline and went down 12-10. Earlier the Sharks had missed three kicks at goal.
South Africa's World Cup winner Bryan Habana picked up where he left off last season to help the Bulls make a successful start to the defence of their Super 14 title. Habana, who was named as the IRB's world player of the year after a magical season in 2007, continued his fairytale run of form.
Stefan Terblanche scored the try that sealed the Sharks' 17-10 win over the Western Force in their Super 14 match in Durban on Friday. Fullback Terblanche, who was not in the 22 named for the match, was called into the team when French flyhalf Frederic Michalak withdrew with a calf injury.
South Africa's five Super 14 teams will have to produce some of their best rugby yet if they are to retain the title they so famously won, for the first time, last year. After years of being denied the title by the Australian and New Zealand teams, South Africa's Northern Bulls finally went all the way in 2007.
Crusaders and Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says players from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa should be free to play in any of the three countries' Super 14 rugby franchises. He is also supporting Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill's view that the competition should be increased to two rounds.