The Sharks have observed an evolution in the Hurricanes’ approach and are braced for a forward onslaught on Saturday.
The Canes have always had superb backline options at their disposal and have become renowned for their expansive approach.
However, having studied them closely recently, Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford believes the Wellington franchise have become significantly more structured, and in this regard predicted that their clash at King’s Park would be an immense battle between the heavies.
‘We’ve noticed that they’ve been quite direct recently and I don’t think they’ll stray too far from that approach,’ Bashford told keo.co.za.
‘The set pieces and breakdown will be the crucial facets of play. If we can pressure them at scrum and lineout time they won’t get going, and when you’re getting done at the breakdown any team becomes fairly ordinary.’
A fortnight ago the Bulls employed that same formula (in addition to pounding defence) to down the Canes in Wellington. Bashford said they’d analysed that match and taken lessons from their South African counterparts.
‘The Bulls were very good on the day but the Canes made the mistake of trying to play them at their own game,’ he said.
‘They would have learnt from that, so it’s not as easy as saying we’re going to try and replicate the Bulls’ approach and expect the same result. But there certainly are elements of their game that were very effective and it would be silly of us to ignore those.’
Bashford did, however, stress that to expect the Canes to be one-dimensional would be a grave error. He noted that their backline was laden with talented players who are capable of turning a match and cited their victory over the Lions last week as a testament to their all-round threat.
‘They have got a few All Blacks in that backline so to say that their forwards will be their only point of attack would be naive,’ he said. ‘They’re dangerous, particularly if you feed them with broken field ball through poor tactical kicking. They have the players in their backline who can score from anywhere. When you think about teams capable of scoring 10 points in the last five minutes of a match the Canes are right at the forefront of your mind.’
The match 22 is likely to remain unchanged other than wing JP Pietersen dropping out as a result of an ankle injury. Luzuko Vulindlu will replace him in the starting line-up with Chris Jordaan providing cover on the bench.
‘There will also be rotation in the front row,’ Bashford said. This could mean a starting spot for Springbok captain John Smit at either tighthead prop or hooker, with one of brothers Jannie or Bismarck du Plessis playing off the wood. There could also be a run-on opportunity for Deon Carstens at loosehead prop at the expense of Beast Mtawarira.
The Sharks will announce their side on Thursday.
By Ryan Vrede