Odds against Sharks in Crusaders Super 15 showdown
Francois Steyn of the Sharks kicks for goal during the Super 15 match against the Brumbies in Canberra on May 10, 2014 - by Mark Graham
The Durban-based Sharks lead the southern hemisphere provincial series by just one point from defending champions the Waikato Chiefs, with the ACT Brumbies a further point away.
Jake White's Sharks went down 16-9 to the Brumbies in Canberra last week, but face the seven-time Super Rugby champion Crusaders fuelled by the momentum of five straight wins.
A bonus-point victory could put the Crusaders level with the Sharks, while the Brumbies could go top if they beat the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Chiefs, along with the Northern Bulls and Auckland Blues, have the weekend off with a bye.
White knows what confronts his team on Saturday with the Crusaders unbeaten in their last 50 matches against South African and Australian opposition in Christchurch.
Only two South African teams have beaten the Crusaders in New Zealand in 18 years of Super Rugby -- the Cats (now Lions) in 2001 and the Bulls in 1996.
"We knew this period of the season was going to be really tough, the Brumbies are the top Australian side and got to the final last year," White said.
"The Crusaders are always contenders and the Sharks haven't won in Christchurch.
"The nice thing is that we're still in control of our own destiny and there's a lot more rugby to be played."
The Crusaders are the hottest side currently in Super Rugby following their 57-29 demolition of the Queensland Reds in Brisbane last weekend.
With fly-half Colin Slade in career-best form and inspirational All Black skipper Richie McCaw back from injury, the pieces are falling into place for the Crusaders after a sluggish start to the season.
- Read remains sidelined -
Number eight Kieran Read is again sidelined with the effects of concussion and coach Todd Blackadder has brought in Tom Taylor at full-back and rested Israel Dagg.
"Kieran hasn't been able to fully participate in contact training for a little while so we're better off giving him more space and time to get back to 100 percent," Blackadder said.
The Brumbies begin a two-match tour of South Africa against the Cheetahs, where they have lost in two of their three visits to Bloemfontein.
The Brumbies were beaten in a nine-try thriller in their last trip to the town in 2011.
Winger Henry Speight is set to return from a fractured jaw if he gets through training this week, while Joe Tomane has been forced out of the trip after fracturing his eye socket in the win against the Sharks.
The Western Force, in fifth spot overall and trailing the Brumbies by three points in the Australian conference, can celebrate their most successful campaign with a win over bottom-placed Western Stormers in Cape Town this weekend.
The Force's previous best season was in 2008 with seven wins, but they can make it eight with victory over the Stormers.
"It's something we've spoken about this week," Force skipper Matt Hodgson said.
"We're looking for that eighth win to go down as the most victorious Force team."
South African fly-half Sias Ebersohn is in doubt after injuring his knee in last week's 23-16 win over the Cheetahs.
In the weekend's remaining games, sixth-placed Wellington Hurricanes are at home to the Otago Highlanders, the troubled Reds are looking for their first win in six games against the Melbourne Rebels in Brisbane, and on Sunday the NSW Waratahs host South Africa's Golden Lions.
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