Stats put Sharks in deep end
THE Sharks are not only competing against history, but against a deluge of statistical evidence that all points to a Chiefs victory in this weekend's Super 15 final in Hamilton.
With the exception of the Crusaders in Canberra in 2000, no side has won the title outside of their own country in 16 seasons. The Crusaders have won more finals away from home, against the Blues and the Highlanders, but it was still in their own countries. Ditto the Bulls when they famously beat the Sharks in Durban in 2007.
The Sharks, to win, would have to secure their third straight play-off victory in their third different country in the space of 14 days. Last year, the Crusaders, with all their experience and class, couldn't do it after winning a play-off game in New Zealand and a semifinal in Cape Town. They lost to the Reds in the final in Brisbane.
In addition to the travel schedule and weight of history, the Sharks are up against one of the best teams both collectively and individually in this season's competition.
Chiefs flyhalf Aaron Cruden is the tournament's top scorer with 234 points, leading the way in most try assists with nine, and has landed the most penalties with 47. Collectively, the Chiefs have scored 49 tries in 17 games and they've only conceded 31. Prop Sona Taumalolo has scored an incredible nine tries and he, hooker Mahonri Schwalger and flank Liam Messam rank second, third and fourth in most pick and drives.
When it comes to most running metres gained, Chiefs centre Sonny Bill Williams is second with 1356m while he also ranks second in most linebreaks, having achieved 16. Taumalolo has pierced the line 14 times and Cruden 11. Keegan Daniel is the Sharks' best-placed linebreaker with 10, while wings Lwazi Mvovo and JP Pietersen have made nine linebreaks each.
Sonny Bill and Cruden feature prominently in first and third on the offload rankings with 40 and 23 respectively. Interestingly, Daniel sneaks in at No2 with 25.
It underlines what a brilliant attacking force the Chiefs are.
Worryingly for the Sharks, they miss, on average, nearly 21 tackles per match, though that percentage has dropped in the play-offs. They've found defensive form at the right time in the tournament.
If the Sharks need hope to cling to, there is some.
The Chiefs have lost nine of their 17 matches against the Sharks and five of those losses have been at home.
Of the 45 Super rugby games the Sharks have played in New Zealand since 1996, they've only won 17 for a 37.6% winning ratio.
It's not a bad return and suggests they have a one in three chance of winning.
The Sharks scrum remains their most potent weapon, while their lineout and ball-carrying ability are also core strengths in their arsenal.