The Cell C Sharks and Highlanders go head-to-head at Forsyth Barr Stadium in New Zealand on Friday morning as the teams meet in our first of four tour matches of Vodacom Super Rugby 2020.
The Highlanders were hit hard by player movements at the end of the 2019 season, the highest profile loss being All Black fullback Ben Smith, while they also lost the services of Marty Banks, Waisake Naholo, Tevita Li, Matt Faddes, Elliot Dixon and Liam Squires amongst others.
But the Cell C Sharks too had losses of our own, although the recruitment of a number of established players and rising stars means that squad depth is well covered.
After the heat and humidity of Durban, the team will welcome the opportunity to show off the hard work done during the pre-season and not always possible against the Vodacom Bulls in our opening match last weekend in the stifling heat at Jonsson Kings Park.
Although the Highlanders had a bye in week one and only kick off their campaign on Friday, Cell C Sharks head coach Sean Everitt is not expecting any rustiness for New Zealand’s southernmost competitor. He also knows what to expect: typical New Zealand rugby.
“The Highlanders played two pre-season games – against the Crusaders and Waratahs – we’ve had a look at them and they’re no different from all the Kiwi teams, they like to play a high intensity, direct style of rugby, moving the ball around a lot.”
Finishing strongly is something the Cell C Sharks team want to maintain this year if they are to be successful. Taking the foot off the gas near the end can prove devastating and against the Bulls, the late try when the game hung in the balance was proof of the energy and fitness levels in the team.
“There is a good vibe in the team and the players are in a good space which contributes to a strong finish, but we can’t underestimate how much work they’ve put in,” Cell C Sharks head coach Sean Everitt explains. “With our long off-season, it was tough and the players admitted that it was probably their hardest pre-season that they’ve had.
While some might believe that the style of play employed against the Bulls is a sign of things to come, Everitt points out that this was a horses-for-courses game plan and that we should expect an exciting game of rugby against the Highlanders.
“We started preparing in a certain way two weeks before the Bulls game to take into account the Durban conditions, but we played vastly differently against the Stormers and we’ll go back to that because it’s how we trained all pre-season.
“It’s what suits us.”
Highlanders vs Cell C Sharks
Date: Friday 7 February
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium