Preseason Friendly: Stade Toulouse v Natal Sharks

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

Stade Toulousain v Natal Sharks | Thursday 11 February | Stade Toulouse | 21:45

The Natal Sharks will conclude their preseason tour of France with a fixture against Toulouse at the Stade Toulouse on Thursday evening. These preseason fixtures tend to be rather high scoring affairs as the Sharks game against a weakened Toulon side last week provides testament to. The game saw the Sharks run out winners by 29 points to 21, it also saw seven different players cross the whitewash.

It may be labelled as a preseason friendly but this game should still be a hotly contested affair.

To Win (80 Mins)
Toulouse 13/20
Draw 22/1
Sharks 12/10
Toulouse (-2.5) 9/10
Sharks (+2.5) 9/10

It’s never easy to predict how teams will approach these preseason games, but with Toulouse travelling to the La Rochelle next Saturday for a Top 14 encounter, I highly doubt Fabian Pelous and Uga Mola will be willing to risk any of their stalwarts for this clash. It’s also that time of the year when the northern hemisphere's international side’s lock horns in the Six Nations, so a few of the French club's stars will be unavailable for this fixture due to national commitments.

Even though it’s likely to be a significantly understrength Toulouse side that takes to the pitch this Saturday, the playing personnel who do turn out in the Toulouse jumper won’t be willing to go down without a fight. The French club have been fantastic in their domestic league and currently occupy second spot on the Top 14 log. They’ve played a good brand of rugby, that is not dissimilar to that of the Sharks in days past.

I expect them to look to take the Sharks pack head on this Thursday, and to spread the ball when given an opportunity to do so. Guthro Steenkamp is likely to start in the frontrow for the French club, so the contest between him and either Thomas du Toit or Beast Mtawarira should be an interesting one. I suspect skipper Thierry Dusatoir will refuse to miss this game despite his coaches probably wanting to not risk him. He’s a fierce competitor and should give the du Preez twins a real contest at the breakdown.

Gary Gold’s preseason preparations were made to look a bit of a fools errand as his skipper and talismanic flyhalf, Pat Lambie, sustained what looked to be a serious shoulder injury that could rule the golden boy of Natal rugby out of the first few rounds of the 2016 Super Rugby season. The injury to Lambie was a huge damper on what was a promising display by the side from the East Coast of South Africa.

The most interesting part of the Sharks' performance last Friday was their attacking approach to the game. Over the last few years, the Sharks have seemingly tried to keep the ball with their forwards - looking to rolling mauls, pick and goes, and short balls to their forwards running off the flyhalf and inside centre channels. And you really can’t blame them for keeping the ball tighter and tighter with each passing year; they had some of the best ball carrying forwards on the planet during that time period. Things have changed though, with the du Plessis brothers and Willem Alberts having left the franchise, the Sharks needed to overhaul their game plan going into the Super Rugby campaign, and it looks like Gold has managed to do this in record time.

Gold’s charges played with an attacking intent which was severely lacking during Jake White’s short tenure. They spread the ball down the backline at every given chance and were well rewarded for their attacking endeavours with five tries – three of which were scored by backline players.

I suspect Gold’s attacking mantra is here to stay, so we may be in for another high scorer this week. He will probably rotate his squad for this one, so the likes of Cobus Reinach and Lwazi Mvovo will most likely feature from the bench while veteran Joe Pietersen should replace Lambie at flyhalf. Personally, I’m hoping he gives the du Preez twins another run, as they were brilliant against Toulon.

Verdict: Sharks 12/10
If the Sharks can replicate last week’s performance against Toulon then they should be able to put a big score line past a much weaker Toulouse side. Back the Sharks to claim the win at 12/10.

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