It is hard to believe it is 15 years since the Sharks and Blues delivered an all-time classic at Kings Park in the first ever season of Super rugby.

It is hard to believe it is 15 years since the Sharks and Blues delivered an all-time classic at Kings Park in the first ever season of Super rugby.

Gary Teichmann’s Sharks just lost to Zinzan Brooke’s All Blacks team deputising as Auckland (Sean Fitzpatrick was at hooker but was not the captain, and you-name-it was in the side from Michael Jones to Joeli Vidiri), and these two teams went on to dominate the competition for the rest of the 90s, with the Blues winning two titles and the Sharks losing in two finals.

Graham Henry, incidentally, recently described that ‘96 match in Durban as one of the favourites of his entire career (the All Black coach was the Auckland boss back then). It really was the stuff of folklore and none of the 48 000 present that day will forget Henry Honiball making two tackles with a broken hand behind his back during an endless period of Auckland possession.

Then the Crusaders and Brumbies got going and the early-pacesetters hit leaner times, but that early rivalry has persevered and the two sides have often saved their best for each other (the Blues had a brief rally in 2003 when they won their third title while the Sharks also recovered to make the final in 2001 before hitting the doldrums until the 2007 final).

In 18 Super matches between the sides the Sharks have won 10, the Blues eight; in Durban the Sharks have won six of the nine matches, the Blues three, but the revealing statistic is the Blues’ failure to beat the Sharks for five years. The last time they won was in Auckland in 2005 and the Sharks have now won six in a row (including a semi-final in 2007).

But this is the third year now that popular Pat Lam is head coach and Aucklanders believe the Blues will settle down and get their act together after a number of years of maddening inconsistency. Last year was a perfect case in point. Their season read like this: lost, won, won, lost, won, lost, won, lost, lost, won, won.

The Blues finished seventh, and ninth the year before, and their country expects them to kick on now.

Lam, an Auckland-born Samoan who captained Manu Samoa in his playing days as a tough-tackling loose forward, has long been trying to instil the “team” ethic in his side and appears to have struck a chord at last given how the Blues recovered from a big half-time deficit last week to beat the Crusaders.

For some time the Blues have matched the seven-times champions for talent but have not had the iron discipline or that priceless fabric of “tightness amongst players” that underpins the Crusaders.

And the Sharks? This is the year they are primed to be consistent across an entire season. They have the best coach in South Africa by a country mile in John Plumtree but since he took over from Dick Muir his charges have been inconsistent from the first half of a season to the second, rather than from game to game.

Last year, various circumstances conspired towards a wretched five-loss start that was grittily transformed into a seven-from-eight victory run, while the year before the Sharks had beaten all before them until the halfway mark and then disintegrated.

In summary, we have a Sharks team due to peak under a good coach and a Blues team primed for the same.

It is going to be the pick of the weekend’s games – that is the only thing you can be assured of!

The Sharks have made just one change to their starting line-up. Openside flank Keegan Daniels is fully over injury and wins his 50th cap, with Jacques Botes reverting to the bench.

Springbok captain John Smit is just about over his calf injury and has been included on the bench at the expense of Craig Burden.

Another Springbok, JP Pietersen, returns from pre-season injury to play off the bench.

The Blues have named an unchanged starting line-up.

Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche (capt), 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Substitutes: John Smit, Eugene van Staden, Anton Bresler, Jacques Botes, Conrad Hoffmann, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, JP Pietersen.

Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Substitutes: Tom McCartney, Charlie Faumuina, Kurtis Haiu, Luke Braid, Toby Morland, Luke McAlister, Sherwin Stowers.
by Mike Greenaway www.iol.co.za

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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