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Richie McCaw & Nemani Nadolo

STILL GOT IT: Crusaders and All Blacks veteran Richie McCaw celebrates a great night for the franchise with Fijian flier Nemani Nadolo.

New Zealand exhales. Turns out rumours of the decline of Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter have been greatly exaggerated.

McCaw and Carter both produced timely high-quality performances in Christchurch tonight as the Crusaders won through to their 11th – yes, 11th – Super Rugby final with a 38-6 dismantling of the Sharks. The Red ‘n Blacks are now 80 minutes away from their eighth championship – but notably a first since 2008.

On a night when Kieran Read illuminated the big occasion with a stellar demonstration of his remarkable quality, and Fijian find of the year Nemani Nadolo was equally as destructive, the old soldiers McCaw and Carter were not a million miles off the standard set by the best player in the world.

With Read, this sort of stuff is as predictable as it is enjoyable. He is a colossus of the game completely at the peak of his powers. His every minute on the field these days is to be savoured.

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Corey Flynn

Corey Flynn will face his rival as the Crusaders take on the Sharks in Christchurch

Corey Flynn’s journey to tonight’s semifinal, his 150th match for the Crusaders and a clash against Bismarck du Plessis, considered the best hooker in the world, has been a long and often painful one.

There have been the five broken arms which would have forced many to think about packing it in. Not Flynn, though. He has been in and out of the All Blacks – painful in itself, but he believes his many injuries have given him the mental strength to handle it.

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Super RugbyIt is the Semi-Finals of Super Rugby 2014 this weekend! We have only the 2 Semi-Final games in this Round, as all the other 11 teams have now been dispatched. Both games take place on Saturday 27 July 2014.

It is crunch time, as only the winners advance to the Final on 2 August 2014.

The Crusaders and Waratahs host the Semi-Finals, as top contenders on the Combined Super Rugby Log. The challengers are the Cell C Sharks and the Brumbies, who have had to travel in order to see if they can advance against strong home ground advantage, for the Final.

Only 3 Super Rugby games for 2014 remain!

Bonus points for tries and losses within 7 now does not matter anymore, all that is needed is a win.

Let the games continue….

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Justin MarshallYou can attribute a large part of the Highlanders’ demise last week to their struggles at scrum time against the Sharks.

This was reminiscent, too, of the way the Crusaders succumbed to a short-staffed Sharks team in Christchurch during round robin play.

So, without resorting to the obvious, it is vital that the Crusaders avoid getting dragged into a set-piece arm wrestle against the same opposition tomorrow.

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Jake White

Sharks coach Jake White – Feeling confident

They’re 10,966 kilometres from home and massive outsiders for Saturday night’s Super Rugby semi-final, but Sharks coach Jake White thinks conditions could play into his side’s hands.

The Durban-based team know if they want any chance of stunning the Crusaders for the second time this season, they need to stick to their strengths.

On a cold Christchurch night, the Sharks will be aiming to retain possession, build up pressure and utilise their dominant scrum and rolling maul.

The long kicking games of fullback SP Marais and backline general Francois Steyn will also be integral as they seek to play the game in the right areas of the field.

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SuperBruSuper RugbyRugby-Talk’s SuperBru competition for the 2014 Super Rugby tournament is drawing to a close with only three matches remaining.

In last week’s Qualifying rounds JohnR earned the yellow cap with a solid 5 pointer moving him up 12 places to 31st. Carol still leads the pack of hungry wolves chasing at her heels, but refuses to relinquish her coveted 1st spot. Sharks_Lover is still a close second, with less than a point separating the two.

Both Winston Champ and Charo at 3 and 4 respectively have fallen slightly off the pace, with 3,5 and 5,2 points separating them from Carol.

Before making those SuperBru predictions, let’s have a look at some picks, tips and predictions first.

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Jake White

Is Jake already lining up his excuses?

Is Jake White trying to get his excuses in early should his Shark team lose against the Crusaders on Saturday?

If his tactics against the last placed SA conference side, the Cheetahs, hadn’t backfire and the Sharks were victorious, they would have had the week off and played the semi final at home.

Would he have complained about the format then?

When his Bok team won the 2007 World Cup they did so without having to face either the All Blacks or the Wallabies. White never complained about the format being skewed did he? No, he benefitted and rightly so, the rules are the rules.

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Pat Lambie

Pat Lambie

The Cell C Sharks team named by Director of Rugby Jake White shows a number of changes from last week’s line-up, albeit not in any major disruptive way as the team prepare for Saturday’s Vodacom semi-final showdown with the Crusaders, reports Sharks website editor Michael Marnewick.

With Anton Bresler falling foul to a knee injury against the Highlanders in last week’s quarter-final win at Kings Park and not making the journey to New Zealand, Willem Alberts shifts from flank to the second row, with his place on the side of the scrum taken by Jean Deysel.

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Richie McCaw

BACK: All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw has been named to return from injury in the Crusaders starting lineup for their Super Rugby semifinal against the Sharks

Richie McCaw has been named at blindside flanker and Corey Flynn will start his 150th Super Rugby match when the Crusaders meet the Sharks in Saturday night’s semifinal in Christchurch.

All Blacks captain McCaw, who hasn’t played since carrying a fractured rib into the third test against England on 21 June, has predictably been named at blindside flanker to allow the in-form Matt Todd to start in his specialist openside flanker role.

Flynn has been elevated ahead of Ben Funnell, who started the previous two matches against the Highlanders and Blues, in the only other change to the run-on side that thumped the Highlanders 34-8 at AMI Stadium on 12 July.

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Nemani Nadolo

LEADING THE WAY: Nemani Nadolo’s speed and strength has boosted the Crusaders this year – helping to push them to the NZ conference title

Former All Blacks fullback Greg Cooper can’t believe Nemani Nadolo is yet to unwrap one of his deadliest tricks.

Cooper, who coaches Nadolo at his Japanese club NEC Green Rockets, hasn’t been surprised the Fijian wing has been a sensation at the Crusaders this season but reckons he can offer even more.

While everyone knows how effective Nadolo can be with the ball in hand, Cooper says one of the best ways to expose defences is to sling cross-kicks to his left wing and reckons there is an 80 per cent chance of scoring if it is executed correctly.

“He is the best winger I have ever seen when taking the ball from cross-kicks,” Cooper, speaking from Japan, emphasised.

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Chris Boyd

INSIDER KNOWLEDGE: Chris Boyd, who will coach the Hurricanes next season, was an assistant at the Sharks in 2009 and 2010 under John Plumtree

Former Sharks assistant coach Chris Boyd doesn’t expect to see the South African side resorting to cynical behaviour or niggle to unsettle the Crusaders.

The Sharks caused a 30-25 boilover when the teams last met in Christchurch in May but they had to do it the hard way, playing 64 minutes with 14 men.

Poor discipline plagued the Sharks with loose forward Jean Deysel sent off after stamping on the face of Crusaders opposite Jordan Taufua. Fellow flanker Willem Alberts was sinbinned in the second half for a professional foul.

Boyd, who will coach the Hurricanes next season, was an assistant at the Sharks in 2009 and 2010 under John Plumtree.

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Super Rugby

Brendan Venter

Brendan Venter

Prior to our 1995 World Cup-winning campaign, the late Kitch Christie told us during one particular team meeting that we could either take the high road or the low road to reach the knockout phase writes Brendan Venter.

While we followed the former path having defeated Australia in our opening match, the Sharks’ class of 2014 have taken the latter route. Although more arduous, nothing is impossible in the oval game.

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Bismarck du Plessis

Bismarck du Plessis has grown into the role of leader

The Cell C Sharks face a daunting task this weekend, there is no doubt about that, and not many will deny that the Crusaders at home are clear cut favorites.

Having to travel to New Zealand to face a Crusader side laden with 18 All Black players in their squad should spell defeat to the side from Durban.

During the build up to this weekend’s match, cliches aplenty will be bandied about and should include phrases like “backs to the wall”, “underdog”, “nothing to lose”. All true and apt, but therein lies the rub.

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Sharks forwards pack

The powerful forward pack of the Sharks and especially their driving maul, seems to have the Crusaders on edge

Wyatt Crockett sounds like a physics teacher as tries to de-mystify the complicated task of demolishing the Sharks’ mauls.

Few things are as difficult to stop as a turbo-charged lineout drive, yet Crockett emphasises that if the Crusaders’ forwards are organised they should fear little in Saturday night’s Super Rugby semifinal at AMI Stadium.

Splintering a maul, usually off a lineout, requires technique and a pinch of luck, as well as a referee who can spot a dodgy truck-and-trailer routine.

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Jake White

Less is more – Jake White

It would seem like Jake White has been listening to and reading the opinion of bloggers on rugby sites. He certainly has a point when during an interview with a New Zealand radio station he mentioned that he also preferred the older versions of the Super Rugby competition.

The majority of the rugby viewing public feel the same way as White and would by no means complain if the tournament is reduced back to the Super 12 or even the Super 14 format.

Jake White is concerned Super Rugby is going down the wrong road as they expand the competition to eighteen teams from 2016′s season.

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Tabai Matson

NO TRICKS: Crusaders defence coach Tabai Matson expects Sharks coach Jake White’s game plan to play to their strengths

Tabai Matson would hoot with laughter if a Sharks’ insider offered to sell Jake White’s game plans this week.

Crusaders defence coach Matson expects nothing tricky from Sharks coach White in Saturday night’s Super Rugby semifinal and anyone trying to convince him otherwise risks being dispatched with a sharp tap to the temple.

“His [White] team plays to their strengths and they are very clinical with what they do,” Matson says. “They have a few things on the menu and they cook it very well.”

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Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira

Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira did not travel to New Zealand

The Cell C Sharks squad that has made the long trek to New Zealand to face the Crusaders in the semi final clash in Christchurch on Saturday, is missing some key players.

The Sharks will spend a week in Christchurch preparing for their Super Rugby semifinal against the Crusaders.

“We’ve got some great memories there — a couple of months ago we had a great time,” White said.

“I think it would be disrespectful not to get to New Zealand straight away. I’m old school and I think if you’re going to play in that country you’ve got to live in that country.”

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Bismarck du Plessis

Winning is the autopilot setting for Bismarck du Plessis

The real Beast roaming around the Super Rugby rugby fields, is Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis.

The bloke next to him at loosehead prop, Tendai Mtawarira, is dubbed “the Beast” who provokes rumbling shows of affection from supporters when he heads off on a run.

His impact, though, is cosmetic compared with Du Plessis.

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Cell C SharksThe Sharks left for New Zealand early Monday morning. They boarded the plane carrying the hopes of their countless supporters, and the hopes of the nation on their shoulders. According to most naysayers, they might have well forfeited the match and stayed at home.

We have heard the same comments and mumblings before, remember when the Sharks left for the overseas leg of their tour? “No chance, they will never beat the Crusaders in Christchurch”

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CrusadersCell C SharksThe Waratahs and Crusaders will be heavily favoured to advance to a Sydney final, but the two Vodacom Super Rugby play-off qualifiers played this weekend did breathe some much needed life into a competition that is sometimes accused of being too predictable.

As expected, the home teams did advance to next week’s round of semifinals, but it was a close run thing in both Canberra and Durban. More than that, the quality of rugby produced, and the entertainment value, was just what the doctor would have ordered if the goal of a medical consultation was to find out what could increase interest for the remaining two weeks.

Of the two winning teams, the Brumbies and the Sharks, it is the former who should go into the semifinals feeling most upbeat. They relaxed when they thought they had the game won and the Chiefs showed their championship qualities one last time before eventually conceding their run of success had come to an end by launching a brave, gutsy and classy fightback.

Once condemned to playing catch-up, the Chiefs produced some of their best rugby in a while, and may well have won had they shown just a bit of temperance in their commitment to attack, for it was their tendency to concede penalties in their own half by trying to play too much rugby there that cost them the game.

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Anton Bresler

The Sharks travelled to New Zealand without Anton Bresler, who suffered broken ribs against the Highlanders

Jake White believes the Sharks can win in Christchurch for the second time this season.

The Sharks beat the Highlanders 31-27 at Kings Park on Saturday to set up a semi-final showdown with the Crusaders. While the long plane trip will count against White’s side, he believes they can win in Christchurch on Saturday, having done so earlier in the season when they played most of the match with 14 men.

“It’s an 80-minute run and if we play well we can win, and I have to believe that,” said White.

“The Highlanders flew in from the other side of the world and came within four points of beating us. They came sixth on the log and we came third.”

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Charl McLeod and Pat Lambie

Charl McLeod and Pat Lambie celebrating the Currie Cup victory in 2013. Will they be celebrating with the Super Rugby trophy in two weeks time?

The return of Pat Lambie and the arrival of Charl McLeod onto the field in the final 20 minutes of Highlanders game coincided with ‘some of the best rugby’ for the Sharks.

The Sharks late fightback after they twice came from behind in the second half to see off the stubborn Highlanders 31-27 has secured them a semifinal date with the Crusaders.

White was clearly happy with the entire team, but in particular with his reserve halfback pairing.

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Cell C Sharks celebations

Celebrations at Kings Park as Bismarck du Plessis scores for the Cell C Sharks

Cell C SharksThe Cell C Sharks are still in contention for their first Super Rugby trophy after beating the Highlanders 31 to 27 at Kings Park tonight.

The Sharks must thank their forwards, and in particular their front row for this victory. Their scrum absolutely decimated the Highlander’s scrum and lead to 6 points in penalties and an all important try to man of the match, Bismarck Du Plessis.

The tactics of not kicking to touch almost cost the Sharks the match as the Highlander’s counter attack was devastating and almost won the game for them. It is a dangerous ploy from the Sharks to gift the ball back to the opposition, considering that their next opponents are also a New Zealand side, and that’s not even taking into account that they might also still have to face the Waratahs or Brumbies, who in Israel Folau and Jessie Mogg have devastating counter runners at their disposal as well.

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Cell C SharksHighlandersSharks (13) 31 / 27 (17) Highlanders (Final Score)

The Cell C Sharks and Highlanders did battle in the Play-Off Round of Super Rugby at

Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban at 17:05 SA Time (15:05 GMT, 03:05 Sunday NZ Time, 01:05 Sunday AEST).

This was the live match discussion Article.

The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1, SHD & M-Net on TV in SA.

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Mt Everest

The Sharks have their own Mt. Everest to climb

If one were to ask people who the first person was to climb Mt. Everest, their answers would invariably be Sir Edmund Hillary.

While technically correct, and the reason I say technically is because Hillary was the first to successfully climb to the summit, there were 8 other expeditions before him. The 1922 British Mount Everest expedition was the first mountaineering expedition with the express aim of making the first ascent of Mount Everest.

Between 1922 and 1953 there were 8 expeditions that tried and failed. The term failed is used lightly I might add, climbers succumbed from illnesses ranging from malaria to altitude sickness, and those were the lucky ones. Death was the common reason for the majority of the failures.

Why am I writing about the ascent of Mt. Everest on a rugby site you might ask, well simply put, Jake White and his Sharks are currently standing at the foot of their own Mt. Everest and tomorrow evening when Steve Walsh blows his whistle to signal the kick off between them and the Highlanders, they will take their first steps on a journey that will hopefully end with them planting the South African flag on the summit in three weeks time.

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imageimageThe Cell C Sharks will play in their 14th Vodacom Super Rugby knock-out match when they host the Highlanders in the second Qualifier for 2014 at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban on Saturday afternoon.

The newly-crowned South African Conference champions are one of the most successful teams in the history of the competition when it comes to reaching the playoff rounds, although they are yet to take the trophy back to Durban.

The Sharks are without doubt the most successful team in the history of the competition never to have won the title.

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Jake White

Jake White

Sharks boss Jake White believes Saturday’s play-off encounter with the Highlanders will be much more like Test match than a Super Rugby showcase.

As a result he believes that the experience of his seasoned Springboks will be a key factor in the knock-out stages of the competition.

“The bottom line is there are no bonus points to worry about in a knock-out game, you just have to win, it doesn’t matter how,”White told a media briefing in Durban on Thursday.

“It means you can’t take too many risks.”

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Jake White

Cell C Sharks coach Jake White

Cell C Sharks director of rugby Jake White has admitted that there was a big temptation to start against the Highlanders with Pat Lambie, but in the end decided against it for fear of disrupting what worked for his side against the Stormers last week.

According to the supersport.com website, speaking a few hours after announcing a match day squad that included Lambie on the bench as back-up to starting flyhalf Frans Steyn, White said he was hoping that the Springbok will get a chance to play in the second half of the Vodacom Super Rugby play-off and thus be ready to start a possible semifinal.

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Super RugbyIt is the Play-Off Round of Super Rugby 2014 this weekend! We have only the 2 Play-Off games in this Round, as all teams below Log position 6 has now been dispatched and the Top 2 teams have a nice rest weekend, with both games on Saturday.

This is the final crunch to sort the men from the boys, to sort the teams going forward into the Semi-Finals.

The Waratahs and Crusaders sit comfortably at the Top of the table and the Brumbies, Chiefs, Cell C Sharks and Highlanders compete in this Round.

It is winners take all in these Play-Off games, the losers joing the other 9 Teams who have already been dispatched to also-ran’s.

Bonus points for tries and losses within 7 now does not matter anymore, all that is needed is a win.

Let the games continue….

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Cell C SharksHighlandersA midfield match-up, the scrumhalves, the battle between the pilferers on the deck and an arm-wrestle at scrum-time come under focus as Sport24 pinpoints a quartet of areas that could tilt the balance between the Sharks and Highlanders.

The teams meet in a Super Rugby finals series first-round knockout match at Kings Park on Saturday (17:05) and these are the individual contests Rob Houwing highlights for special attention…

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Cell C SharksIn the second of the Qualifying Round matches, the Cell C Sharks hosts the Highlanders from Otago. The Sharks won the SA Conference and thereby ensured they booked a home qualifier by ending 3rd on the Combined Log. The Highlanders took the last of the wild card positions by ending their season 6th.

The long-awaited return of Springbok Patrick Lambie highlights the Sharks team for their Super Rugby play-off encounter with the Highlanders in Durban on Saturday.

Scrumhalf Cobus Reinach also makes a welcome return ahead of this preliminary qualifier.

However, it is the return of Lambie’s – albeit on the replacement bench – that will hog the headlines.

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Charl McLeod

Charl McLeod believes that the Sharks are on the right track

Sharks scrumhalf Charl McLeod is stoic in his approach to their play-off game against the Highlanders, it is finals rugby and nothing else matters.

The Sharks started the 2014 campaign ruthlessly, dispatching teams in a clinical matter week in and week out. However, recently there has been notable downward-turn in the Sharks performace.

A loss to the Highlanders in Round 11 and two poor performances on the bounce against the Stormers and Cheetahs seem to take the teeth out of the Costal team.

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HighlandersCell C SharksHighlanders coach Jamie Joseph denies his side is lacking energy heading into the play-offs and says it is time to get excited about playing in the finals.

After a poor outing against the Crusaders in their last pool game the Highlanders know they will have to play much better if they are to be competitive in their long-awaited play-off match against the Sharks.

They never fired in Christchurch on Saturday, the 34-8 defeat from the Crusaders ensured they finished sixth in the competition and have to head to Durban to take on the Sharks.

Earlier this season, the Highlanders beat the Sharks 34-18 in Durban. The Sharks are not looking as impressive as they were at the start of the season, when they led the table for a long period of time.

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