The Chiefs and the Sharks battle it out on Saturday in the Super Rugby Final.
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After yet another season of scintillating action, the Super Rugby campaign comes to an end on Saturday as the Chiefs take on the Sharks at Waikato Stadium (Chiefs 2/5, draw 18/1, Sharks 19/10).
Once again the Southern Hemisphere tournament has set the bar for club rugby and, after almost six months of competition, the two best sides have emerged to compete for what will be the winner’s first title.
The Chiefs (2/5 Grand Final outright) have been one of the most consistent outfits this year and despite a mini blip towards the end of the regular season, proved their class last week by beating the mighty Crusaders.
Dave Rennie’s men have always been known for their exciting style but after losing in the 2007 final have added some extra steel to their pack in recent years, and are now capable of competing in all areas.
However, so much will depend on the performance of fly-half Aaron Cruden, who has been a revelation in 2012 since joining from the Hurricanes.
The 23-year-old is arguably the form number ten in the world and his performances with ball-in-hand have even raised questions about whether he should take Dan Carter’s place in the All Blacks’ line-up for the upcoming Rugby Championship.
Although he’s mainly known for his running ability, it’s his kicking skills that will be tested on Saturday due to the prowess of the opposition forwards and if he can guide his team-mates round the park, his outside backs should do the rest.
The Sharks (7/4 Grand Final outright) have been the nearly men of the competition over recent years and famously went down to a final minute Bryan Habana try in the 2007 final.
Like many of the South African teams, their gameplan is based around dominating up-front before releasing their backs.
However, unlike a number of their compatriots, they have attacking players who can unlock teams from anywhere and, in fly-half Frederic Michalak, they posses one of the most mercurial men to ever grace a rugby field.
If they’re to win this game though the hard work will have to be done by the pack and, in hooker Bismarck du Plessis, they have the perfect man to lead them into battle.
The match will mark the current Springbok number two’s 100th appearance for the Sharks and his ferocity in both the scrum and the loose may just make the difference in Hamilton.
However, home advantage plays a huge role in these matches and, although it’ll be tight on the scoreboard, the passionate Chiefs support could make the difference (Chiefs (-6.0) 10/11, draw 16/1, Sharks (+6.0) 10/11 Handicap Betting).