It has been a frustrating campaign for the Sharks so far and they will be coming up against an in-form Highlanders at Kings Park on Saturday.
At times, they have been brilliant, producing exhilarating performances which has seen them thrash the Blues and run the Hurricanes close, while at others, the Durban-based outfit have been simply woeful.
Losses to the Bulls and Rebels were dire, both in the end scoreline and the sheer inadequacies of the displays, yet they have shown some outstanding quality against the best sides in the competition.
Robert du Preez’s outfit have been a difficult conundrum to solve so, despite the contrasting fortunes between the Sharks and Highlanders this season, it may well be a tightly fought contest.
Aaron Mauger’s charges were unconvincing against the Bulls last weekend, snatching the victory via a last minute penalty, and were put under significant pressure at the scrum. With Tendai Mtawarira returning from injury for the hosts, it is an area the South Africans could target as they look to make it successive wins for the first time in 2018.
They may not just be a threat in the front-row either. In flanker Jean-Luc du Preez, his brother and fly-half Robert Jnr and centre Andre Esterhuizen, the Sharks have three standout individuals from the current campaign. Esterhuizen almost bullied the ‘Canes in Round Eight, while the Du Preez clan, which will include a third sibling in Dan this weekend, have also consistently impressed.
That reliability has unfortunately not spread throughout the squad, however, and the whole 23 will have find their form if the home side are to halt Aaron Smith and co. The Landers’ scrum-half has been outstanding this year, scoring three tries and assisting a further seven more, and his half-back partner Lima Sopoaga is not bad either.
Mauger, the New Zealanders’ new boss, has settled well in Dunedin and should the visitors get parity up front, they may well have too much nous and creativity for Du Preez’s men.
The last time the teams met: It was an impressive win for the Sharks as they came away from Dunedin with a 15-14 triumph, but Jason Emery’s deserved 13th minute red card had a huge part to play in the result. Down to 14 men, the Highlanders battled valiantly and scored the only try of the game through Matt Faddes, but Garth April’s five penalties, including the decisive effort four minutes from time, saw the Durban-based outfit to a narrow victory.
Team news: Tendai Mtawarira starts in the Sharks side named to take on the Highlanders in their Super Rugby clash at Kings Park on Saturday.
Mtawarira’s experience cannot be denied over a period spanning more than a decade, but the player who deputised for him, Juan Schoeman, has been impressive when called on.
The other change to the front-row sees Akker van der Merwe coming in for Chilliboy Ralepelle at hooker, while Stephan Lewies makes way for Tyler Paul in a rotational change at lock.
The rest of the pack, as well as the entire backline, remain unchanged from the side that defeated the Stormers two weeks ago.
For the Highlanders, head coach Aaron Mauger has made several changes to his starting side with Waisake Naholo returning to the XV.
Naholo plays on the wing where he will partner Ben Smith, who returns to full-back, and youngster Patelesio Tomkinson in the back three.
Josh Ioane makes the playing 23 for only the second time but Matt Faddes suffered an injury to his ankle in training and is facing a race against time to be fit for the match. Josh McKay has flown in to replace the injured Tevita Li and will take Faddes’ place on the bench if he is ruled out.
Up front, Aki Seiuli trades places with Daniel Lienert-Brown and Elliot Dixon makes way for Shannon Frizell.
“We know the Sharks recently had a good tour of Australia and New Zealand where they played some great rugby so they will present plenty of threats on Saturday,” Mauger said.
“Our guys have really embraced the tour so far and we have enjoyed each other’s company and have worked hard at getting our game to the level it needs to be each week.”
2016: Sharks won 15-14 in Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 48-15 in Dunedin
2014: Sharks won 31-27 in Durban
2014: Highlanders won 34-18 in Durban
2013: Highlanders won 25-22 in Dunedin
2012: Sharks won 28-16 in Durban
2010: Sharks won 30-16 in Dunedin
2009: Sharks won 23-15 in Durban
2008: Sharks won 19-17 in Dunedin
2007: Sharks won 23-16 in Durban
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Patelesio Tomkinson, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon (cc), 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Jackon Hemopo, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Matt Faddes/Josh McKay
Date: Saturday, May 5
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)