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Chiefs v Sharks: Teams
at Waikato Stadium, Saturday August 4, KO 8:35am BST. Live on Sky Sports 2HD
Super Rugby history will be made on Saturday, with this year's final guaranteed to provide new champions for the southern hemisphere.
Whilst it is fair to say that two of the best teams in this year's tournament will battle it out for the crown, the odds are stacked heavily against the globe-trotting Sharks.
After mixed fortunes through the first half of the season, the Sharks won six of their final seven regular season games to make the top six. But to reach the final in Hamilton, the men from Durban have had to clock up a travelling record as they criss-crossed the Indian Ocean three times after beating the Reds in Brisbane and then the Stormers in Cape Town.
Now the big question on everyone's lips is whether John Plumtree's troops can defy the odds for a third straight week and return home with the title after covering 55,000 kilometres in the air.
On the other end of the scale, the Chiefs have not had to leave Hamilton for three weeks (the last time they played outside of New Zealand was on May 13) and once again enjoy the luxury of playing at Waikato Stadium where they will host their first home Super Rugby Final.
Despite losing their last two regular season fixtures, the Chiefs dug deep in their semi-final and ended up eliminating the most successful team in the history of Super Rugby.
While the Chiefs won the New Zealand conference and finished second behind the Stormers in the overall standings they were still underdogs against the powerful Crusaders, who were playing their 14th semi-final in 17 years and who had never previously lost a play-off against a New Zealand opponent.
While the Chiefs entered last Friday's semi-final as underdogs, this week they are clear favourites when they run on for only their second final (their last final three years ago ended in an embarrassing 61-17 massacre at the hands of the Bulls).
The Sharks, meanwhile, are no strangers to finals rugby but are no better off than the Chiefs in that they've never managed to scale the last hurdle having gone down to the Blues in 1996, the Brumbies in 2001 and the Bulls in 2007.
When the Chiefs and Sharks met earlier this year in Durban, the Kiwi outfit got the better of their South African counterparts. But as the season reaches an exciting climax, there isn't a lot between the two teams.
Just eight points separate the Chiefs from the Sharks for points scored (444 to 436), the Sharks have conceded fewer points (348 to 358), both have scored 47 tries while the Chiefs have conceded 30 and the Sharks 31!
But even though the two finalists are pretty evenly matched, the Sharks will have to do what has only been achieved once in the history of Super Rugby - win a final in another country (in 2000, the Crusaders travelled to Canberra, where they beat the Brumbies 20-19).
In fact only two teams have won finals away from home - the Crusaders also did it in 1998 (against the Blues in Auckland) and in 1999 (against the Highlanders in Dunedin), while the Bulls beat the Sharks in Durban in 2007.
The Sharks' victories in Brisbane and Cape Town in the past fortnight have certainly highlighted the belief within the side. And while belief alone won't be enough to win a Super Rugby Final, it will certainly give the men from Durban a fighting chance against a Chiefs side feeling the pressure to win.
The Chiefs have named an unchanged line-up from the one which beat the Crusaders in the last four, with captain Craig Clarke passing a fitness test.
Centre Paul Jordaan comes into the Sharks' starting line-up to replace Tim Whitehead, who fractured his hand in the semi-final victory over the Stormers.
Pat Lambie has overcome injury and will fill the full-back role at the expense of Riaan Viljoen, who drops to the bench.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Sharks: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Riaan Viljoen.
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|Friday 13th February|
|06:35||Crusaders vs Melbourne Rebels|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Reds|
|17:10||Lions vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 14th February|
|06:35||Blues vs Chiefs|
|15:05||Sharks vs Cheetahs|
|17:05||Bulls vs Stormers|
|Sunday 15th February|
|06:05||Waratahs vs Western Force|
|Friday 20th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Brumbies|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Waratahs|
|17:10||Bulls vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 21st February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Reds vs Western Force|
|15:05||Stormers vs Blues|
|17:10||Sharks vs Lions|
|Friday 27th February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Reds|
|11:00||Western Force vs Hurricanes|
|17:10||Cheetahs vs Blues|
|Saturday 28th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Brumbies|
|15:05||Bulls vs Sharks|
|17:10||Lions vs Stormers|
|Friday 6th March|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Highlanders|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Western Force|
|Saturday 7th March|
|06:35||Blues vs Lions|
|08:40||Reds vs Waratahs|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com