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Super Rugby preview: Sharks take on the Stormers at Kings Park
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Sharks will look to maintain their lead at the Super Rugby summit when they welcome the Stormers to Durban on Saturday.
Jake White's side currently hold a five-point lead over second-placed Waratahs, but that lead could have been eclipsed before kick-off with the New South Wales franchise taking on the Chiefs earlier in the day.
A run of just three wins from their last five matches has seen the Sharks' runaway lead shrunk and the competition blow wide open, with just nine points separating first and eighth with four rounds to play.
Both sides enter Round 16 on the back of victories, with the Sharks beating the Blues 29-23 in Albany while the Stormers registered a convincing 33-0 win over South African conference rivals Cheetahs.
Sharks director of rugby White has largely stuck with the same team for Saturday's clash against the Stormers at Kings Park, making just one change.
The return to action of Marcell Coetzee, who has recovered from injury, is well-timed and he is the lone change to the matchday 23 that overcame the Blues last time out.
Another win at this stage would prove hugely valuable to their title aspirations, but everyone acknowledges that the Stormers are a much better prospect than their table position suggestions.
"If you had asked at the start of the season which teams were going to be dangerous, everyone would have backed the Stormers," said White.
"They were good last year, they got to the Currie Cup Final, they are one team hard to break down, and that is a common thread that remains in their game.
"They didn't have a good run early on but they are definitely improving, they're playing better rugby now and their confidence will be much higher now that it was three or four weeks ago. I'm sure it will be another big derby game where we are going to have to play well."
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee will be without the injured Schalk Burger, meaning Duane Vermeulen will assume the captaincy from No 8.
Burger did not recover from a knock to his neck which he sustained in last weekend's win over the Cheetahs.
In other changes, Sailosi Tagicakibau starts on the left wing, with Siya Kolisi starting in the number seven shirt in the absence of Burger and Cheslin Kolbe shifts across to the right wing in place of Kobus van Wyk who is out of action for three weeks with a wrist injury.
Argentine lock Manuel Carizza returns to the fray for the first time since the end of February, having recovered from a wrist injury, whilst fly-half Demetri Catrakilis is back in the mix for the first time since March.
Sharks: 15 Marais, 14 Pietersen, 13 Sithole, 12 Jordaan, 11 Mvovo, 10 Steyn, 9 Reinach; 1 Mtawarira, 2 B du Plessis, 3 J du Plessis, 4 Oosthuizen, 5 Lewies, 6 Coetzee, 7 Mtembu, 8 Alberts.
Replacements: 16 Cooper, 17 Chadwick, 18 Adriaanse, 19 Kankowski, 20 Daniel, 21 McLeod, 22 Swiel, 23 Williams.
Stormers: 15 Taute, 14 Kolbe, 13 De Jongh, 12 De Allende, 11 Tagicakibau, 10 Coleman, 9 Groom; 1 Vermaak, 2 Fourie, 3 Cilliers, 4 Rhodes, 5 Botha, 6 Carr, 7 Kolisi, 8 Vermeulen.
Replacements: 16 Coetzee, 17 Sithole, 18 Dreyer, 19 Kleyn, 20 Carizza, 21 Frylinck, 22 Catrakilis, 23 Grant
You can watch Sharks v Stormers live from 6:10pm on Sky Sports 4HD
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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