Preview: Sharks v Brumbies
Jake White returns to the Canberra Stadium on Saturday as the top two sides in the Super Rugby standings go head-to-head.
Boring, boring Sharks, bemoan those less than impressed with the league leaders' style of rugby, that which bears White's moniker so prominently stamped all over it. We've witnessed some eye-bleeding South African derbies so far this season - and a few entertaining ones too - and where the Durban franchise are concerned, the method really doesn't matter when the wins keep coming.
The World Cup-winning coach is happy for his charges to strangle and suffocate their opposition, winning the forward battle and relying on Tim Swiel and Frans Steyn to knock over the penalties that inevitably ensue. It isn't pretty, but boy, is it effective.
That was until the Highlanders rolled into town a fortnight ago, bringing to Kings Park a swashbuckling brand of running rugby the Sharks had no answer to. It was as if the home side were labouring around the field with steam coming out of their ears as a robotic, metronomic gameplan was picked apart. Running rugby? Does not compute.
It finished a rout. Four tries to nil - the Sharks never looked like scoring. The heavy loss exposed a chink in the hitherto pristine White armour, and added significant substance to the concern among supporters that the master technician was stifling the creativity his talented bunch are clearly capable of mustering.
Normal service resumed a week later, as the Sharks recorded the first overseas win of 2014 by a South African franchise with a 22-16 victory over the Rebels in Melbourne. But White, whose Brumbies side thrashed the Durbaners at Kings Park a year ago, has publicly acknowledged how the team he coached to the 2013 Final have been fine-tuned and developed by Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher - with an improving set-piece and a dogged approach to the contact area, they relish taking on their South African counterparts at their own game.
With injury ruling out influential scavenger Marcell Coetzee, the ex-Springbok boss has called upon the experienced Keegan Daniel at openside in the hope of matching the Brumbies' tenacity at the breakdown, and as Steyn wears the number ten jersey, his half-back partner Cobus Reinach is a more appetising prospect when it comes to sparking the visitors' attack.
But what of White's former team? The one he transformed from lowly no-hopers in 2011 to tournament runners-up in the course of two years? The Brumbies are alive and kicking - most recently kicking their maddening tendency to run out of steam and fade in the final quarter of matches - and have played some outstanding stuff under Larkham and Fisher this season.
Their backline is packed with Wallabies, as the likes of Matt Toomua, Tevita Kuridrani and Jesse Mogg offer a brilliant array of attacking options the Sharks must be wary of - if the boys up front fail to gain the upper hand, and things open up in Canberra, the hosts will undoubtedly hold the cards.
The Brumbies pack are certainly no pushovers either, as Larkham welcomes back the barnstorming Fotu Auelua as the sole change to the side that were beaten by the Crusaders last weekend. Auelua is a back-row in the mould of Billy Vunipola and Louis Picamoles - he can do real damage with ball in hand in a similar style to Willem Alberts. Do not underestimate how important that is against a South African side.
Form: The Sharks are eight from ten this season, topping the log by five points heading into Round 13. Their only loss besides that Highlanders tanking came at the hands of the Bulls back in March. Meanwhile, the Brumbies have won four of their last six games, with defeat to the Crusaders and a surprise loss to the Rebels in Melbourne the only recent blots on the copybook.
Prediction: White's ex-team will come back to haunt him as the Brumbies win in Canberra. Brumbies by 7!
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Fotu Auelua, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ruaidhri Murphy, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Pat McCabe.
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.
Date: Saturday, May 10
Kick-off: 19:40 (10:40 BST, 09:40 GMT)
Venue: Canberra Stadium
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)