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Preview: Hurricanes v Sharks

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Sportal.co.nz     05 Apr 2012     Getty Images

Neither the Hurricanes nor the Sharks have set the world alight this season but with plenty of points in them, it will be well worth the price of admission to the New Plymouth faithful.

VENUE & TIME: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, Friday April 6 @ 1930

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 16; Sharks/Natal 9, Hurricanes 6, drawn 1

LAST TIME: April 24, 2011 (Durban ) – Sharks 40-24 Hurricanes.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Hurricanes' medical staff have been kept reasonably quiet and will be pleased to see flanker Karl Lowe come through a full 80 minutes in last week's loss to the Cheetahs. They welcome back prop Ben May, who was merely rested in round six, along with Victor Vito and Jason Eaton from their respective calf and back niggles.
The Sharks are probably a week or two away from welcoming back a trio of influential players Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira (ankle), Ryan Kankowski (thumb) and Patrick Lambie (jaw).

FORM:
Hurricanes:
Round 2: beat Lions 30-28 (a)
Round 3: beat Force 46-19 (a)
Round 4: lost to Highlanders 17-19 (h)
Round 5: beat Blues 26-25 (a)
Round 6: lost to Cheetahs 38-47 (h)

Cheetahs:
Round 2: lost to Stormers 12-15 (a)
Round 3: beat Lions 32-20 (h)
Round 4: beat Reds 27-22 (h)
Round 5: lost to Waratahs 30-34 (a)
Round 6: beat Brumbies 29-26 (a)

The Hurricanes had momentum on the back of three wins from their last four until they squandered it against the Cheetahs. They also squandered a 32-11 lead in that match when they should have kicked home and secured all five competition points. Instead, they came out with one and couldn't even manage a bonus point for losing within seven points. For all the experience of captain Conrad Smith and Cory Jane in the backline, it is seriously lacking around them and an inability to close out the Cheetahs could be attributed to that.
The Sharks had to stage a second-half fightback to get home over the Brumbies and they got it done for the first time in Canberra for 14 years. It was a timely success and kept them in touch with the Stormers and Bulls at the top of the South African conference. A glass half-full person could claim they are unlucky to have not won all six matches this year, with losses to the Bulls, Stormers and Waratahs all being by four points or less.

WHO'S HOT: Jane's elusive open-field running makes him a threat for any opposition and has created plenty of point-scoring opportunities for the Hurricanes this year. Given a solid base up front, he and a number of other talented, yet few, backline troops are capable of lighting up the scoreboard. Andre Taylor is one of those and he has taken his chances at fullback this year with aplomb.
The Sharks have plenty of brawn up front in Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts and Marcell Coetzee but halfback Charl McLeod deserves plenty of plaudits as well for his work behind the scrum. McLeod has been busy and effective in their last three matches, two of them being victories, and it means coach John Plumtree can now play Frederic Michalak at first five-eighth where he is most suited.

WE THINK: The Sharks showed they aren't scared of teams on the road by beating the Brumbies and almost tipping up the Waratahs the week before. And the history between the two sides shows seven away wins from 16, which proves home advantage isn't a huge comfort. The South Africans will fancy their chances of outmuscling the Hurricanes up front and piling on the points from that platform. This may well be the young Canes' most physical assignment of 2012 and with a tough schedule of six straight matches without a bye, it might not be the right time to undergo it. It won't be a complete blowout but don't be surprised if the Sharks get up by a double-digit margin.

TEAMS:
Hurricanes: 1. Ben May, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 4. James Broadhurst, 5. Jason Eaton, 6. Jack Lam, 7. Karl Lowe, 8. Faifili Levave, 9. TJ Perenara, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Tim Bateman, 13. Conrad Smith (c), 14. Cory Jane, 15. Andre Taylor.
Replacements: 16. Motu Matu’u, 17. Michael Bent, 18. Jeremy Thrush, 19. Mark Reddish, 20. Chris Eaton, 21. Tusi Pisi, 22. Charlie Ngatai.

1. Dale Chadwick , 2. Craig Burden , 3. Jannie du Plessis , 4. Steven Sykes , 5. Jandre Marais , 6. Marcell Coetzee , 7. Willem Alberts , 8. Keegan Daniel (capt) , 9. Charl McLeod , 10. Frederic Michalak , 11. Lwazi Mvovo , 12. Tim Whitehead , 13. JP Pietersen , 14. Louis Ludik , 15. Riaan Viljoen
Replacements: , 16. Bismarck du Plessis , 17. Wiehahn Herbst , 18. Anton Bresler , 19. Jean Deysel , 20. Jacques Botes , 21. Meyer Bosman , 22. Marius Joubert/Paul Jordaan

REFEREE: Glen Jackson (NZ)