Expect the gloves to come off in a potentially brutal Super Rugby showdown between the Southern Kings and the Sharks at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium today.
More than 20 000 fans are expected for this high-stakes clash where the Kings will be bidding to make history by beating a South African Super Rugby franchise for the first time.
Adding to the sense of optimism among Kings supporters is the fact that their team are enjoying a red-hot run of form.
The Kings scored impressive wins over the Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels in their previous games and they can count on a partisan home crowd cheering their every move.
“I think the Sharks will definitely bring their physicality,” was the blunt assessment of Kings captain Lionel Cronje ahead of the clash.
“You can clearly see in the team that the Sharks have chosen that they will be physical and their set piece will be good. I also think they have exciting backs.
“I think it is going to be an all-round really good game to play in and to watch.”
Asked if the Kings were facing a psychological battle in their quest to beat South African opposition for the first time, Cronje said: “The biggest psychological thing was to develop a winning culture. In workshops we had in the pre-season, we wanted to make sure we can start winning games.
“So I think the biggest thing was to get into a position where we can win games and we have definitely done that. “We can only focus on staying positive within our camp and keep working on our strengths and making sure that we can keep executing that and the results will take care of themselves whether it is against Australian, New Zealand or South African sides.
“We must make sure we can get into that frame of mind,” Cronje said.
The Kings will also take great confidence from their early-season encounter against the Sharks when they came agonisingly close to pulling off a famous win. Back in March, Sharks fullback Curwin Bosch nailed a late penalty to clinch the match after the Kings had been leading 17-16 with 10 minutes left.
There was a chance for the Kings to snatch victory at the death, but Cronje failed with a long-range penalty to leave the Sharks narrow 19-17 winners.
Today’s clash has all the makings of another nail-biter and Sharks coach Robert du Preez has warned his team to expect a hostile reception.
“There’s definitely no complacency for this game in Port Elizabeth,” Du Preez said. “The Kings match is going to be tough in PE. They’re already talking up a storm for this match but we’ll be ready.”
With only two defeats in 10 outings, the Sharks are gaining momentum and they will be keen to maintain that to challenge for Super Rugby honours.
Kings coach Deon Davids said it was vital that his team made the most of every opportunity that came their way against a quality Sharks side. “The Sharks know from our first meeting in Durban that it will be a contest.”
With Curwin Bosch away on national duty with the SA Under 20 side, Patrick Lambie takes over as flyhalf as well as taking over the captaincy in one of two changes to the Sharks backline.
The other sees Lwazi Mvovo, who was rested last weekend, replacing Sbu Nkosi, who shifts to the bench following his debut last Saturday against the Force.
In the front row, Tendai Mtawarira returns for Thomas du Toit, while Franco Marais and Mahlatse Ralepelle swop jerseys. Today’s teams: Southern Kings: Masixole Banda, Wandile Mjekevu, Berton Klaasen, Luzuko Vulindlu, Makazole Mapimpi, Lionel Cronje (capt), Louis Schreuder, Andisa Ntsila, Tyler Paul, Chris Cloete, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Irne Herbst, Ross Geldenhuys, Martin Bezuidenhout, Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: Kurt Haupt, Chris Heiberg, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Stefan Willemse, Johan Steyn, Pieter-Steyn de Wet, Stokkies Hanekom. Sharks: Rhyno Smith, Jacobus van Wyk, Lukhanyo Am, Jeremy Ward, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie (captain), Michael Claassens, Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Philip van der Walt, Ruan Botha, Etienne Oosthuizen, Coenie Oosthuizen, Franco Marais, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Mahlatse Ralepelle, Thomas du Toit, Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argetina). Kick-off 5:15pm.