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04 Apr 2013 09:24
Luke Romano of the Crusaders in action during round seven of the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Canterbury Crusaders at DHL Newlands on March 30 2013 in Cape Town. (Gallo)
The seven-time champion Crusaders, already without captain Kieran Read and star All Blacks Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, will be missing hooker Corey Flynn with an eye injury, while Israel Dagg is in doubt with a hamstring injury.
Traditionally the benchmark in Super Rugby, the Crusaders have recovered strongly after losing their first two matches of the season, beating the Northern Bulls (41-19), Southern Kings (55-20) and Western Stormers (19-14).
The Sharks, who hammered the Melbourne Rebels 64-7 in their last outing at home before a bye last weekend, are leading the South African conference and are anticipating a tough match against the Kiwi giants in Durban.
"The Crusaders' skill levels are really high, their backs and forwards handle the ball well, so our defensive plan is going to have to be very accurate," Sharks coach John Plumtree said.
"The breakdown is also going to be huge and we need to be competitive there against a team like the Crusaders who are able to hold onto the ball for long periods of time." The two teams last met in 2011 in the playoffs when the Crusaders won 36-8, securing a place in the semi-finals.
Coach Todd Blackadder has given indications of a running game against the Sharks with the inclusion of Tom Marshall at fullback and scrum-half Andy Ellis.
Competition front-runners ACT Brumbies are at home on Friday to the Kings and are hoping to pick up an extra bonus point with reigning champions Waikato Chiefs, in second place in the standings, having this weekend off with a bye.
Brumbies coach Jake White said Wallabies centre Pat McCabe is likely to make his long-awaited return after a hamstring injury he suffered in a trial game in early March.
"Pat's fine. He's pulled up nicely this week so in all likelihood he'll be involved this weekend," White said.
The Port Elizabeth-based Kings, in their debut Super Rugby season, won their opening game against the Western Force but have lost their past four games.
The in-form Central Cheetahs, winners in their past four outings, have dropped scrum-half Sarel Pretorius for Piet van Zyl for Saturday's South African derby with the Stormers in Bloemfontein.
"The Stormers are good on defence and we expect a tough game this weekend.
It is always a close game when we play against them, Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske said.
"It is important for us to keep the momentum of the last couple of weeks." Stormers coach Allister Coetzee is planning to give fly-half Elton Jantjies a little more time to recover from a bruised chest.
Coetzee has made five changes, one of them positional, to the side that lost 19-14 to the Crusaders in the last round at Newlands.
Auckland Blues coach John Kirwan is expecting a fired-up Otago in Friday's New Zealand derby in Auckland.
The Highlanders have lost all five of their games this year with coaches and fans puzzled over the lack of success for the talent-filled side, bolstered by the off-season recruitment of All Blacks Ma'a Nonu, Brad Thorn and Tony Woodcock.
"They can't win a trick and I don't want them to win one this Friday either so that's the nature of this tournament," Kirwan said.
In the weekend's other games, the Hurricanes host the NSW Waratahs in Wellington and Western Force take on the Rebels in Perth, while the Chiefs, Bulls and Queensland Reds have byes.
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