Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith is plotting a Super Rugby ambush.
As clever as Sharks coach Jake White may be he cannot prepare for what he hasn't seen and Smith believes that could be a vital advantage when the sides meet in Durban tomorrow.
''We've seen a lot of them and the way they play and I think that helps our preparation where they will have only seen a couple of pre-season games of ours and probably not the combinations we've got here,'' Smith said on the eve of the Hurricanes' first match of the season.
''We are probably a bit of a hidden element to the game which we'll try to use to our favour. It's certainly a tough start for us, but it's got the guys pretty excited. I know I am. It's a great place to start and a big challenge. There's also probably a lot of expectation on them.''
Smith's right about his side being something of an unknown quantity.
Injuries to loose forwards Brad Shields and Victor Vito as well as midfielder Tim Bateman have thrust Blade Thomson and Hadleigh Parkes into key roles at No 8 and second five-eighth, respectively.
Thomson in particular will be crucial behind a scrum that faces an enormous test against a Sharks tight five that dominated the Bulls in the opening round.
Hurricanes tighthead Jeffery Toomaga-Allen holds the key as he locks horns with Springbok strong man Tendai Mtawarira.
If Toomaga-Allen can hold firm, then Thomson will get a solid platform from which to form a functional combination with halfback TJ Perenara.
The success of the No 8 and halfback will dictate whether the Hurricanes can get on the front foot, and that will be the winning and losing of this match.
If the Hurricanes let Sharks openside flanker Marcell Coetzee have his way going forward to the breakdowns then they will struggle to compete.
Worse still, their stellar backline will not be able to impose themselves on the match.
While conditions are expected to be hot and greasy. the Hurricanes' best hopes lie with how often first five-eighth Beauden Barrett can get Smith, wings Julian Savea and Cory Jane and canny fullback Marty Banks into the match.
The Sharks don't have any obvious weakness, though they did tire late against the Sharks and first five-eighth Patrick Lambie can be rattled.
In locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Anton Bresler they have an energetic combination behind the experienced front row of Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira.
The home side is overwhelming favourite for a reason against a Hurricanes side containing two rookies, Banks and lock Mark Abbott, in the run-on side and another two in the reserves.
History suggests a close match with the sides splitting their 15 matches seven wins apiece with a draw.
While they didn't play each other last season, the Hurricanes have not won in Durban since 2005. Smith's hopes of an ambush may well be their best hopes in what is the toughest possible Super Rugby opener.
SHARKS v HURRICANES
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
TV: Sky Sport 1, 4.05am, tomorrow
TAB odds: Sharks $1.20, Hurricanes $4.25
Referee:Andrew Lees (AUS)
Hurricanes: Marty Banks, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith ©, Hadleigh Parkes, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Blade Thomson, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Mark Abbott, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Chris Eves, John Schwalger, Mark Reddish, Adam Hill, Chris Smylie, Alapati Leiua, James Marshall.
Sharks: SP Marais, Odwa Ndungane, Paul Jordaan, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Anton Bresler, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis ©, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Stephan Lewies, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Heimar Williams, S'bura Sithole.
- The Dominion Post
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