The Cell C Sharks are sticking to their line that the Super Rugby permutations are irrelevant to their approach to their big derby against the Emirates Lions as the kick-off nears.

The Crusaders’ decision to rest their entire All Black front-row for their final league clash with the Hurricanes in Wellington earlier in the day has increased the prospect of the Lions topping the log if they win in Durban. If the Crusaders lose and the Lions win, the Lions will be top and the eighth placed Sharks will travel to Johannesburg for next week’s quarterfinal.

However, the Sharks appear determined to atone for their unlucky loss in Johannesburg at the beginning of April.

“I would say this is going to be our toughest match of the season, there is a lot to play for,” said coach Robert du Preez after naming a combination that must be close to his strongest of the season.

“We need to get our campaign back on track with a good performance going into the quarters and they could be playing for No 1 spot on the overall standings. So it’s going to be very exciting. We have had an up and down season, especially at home, and we owe it to our supporters to get it right on Saturday.”

Listening to Du Preez talk and knowing what the Sharks face if they beat the Lions – in other words a trip to Christchurch next week – you’d think that the coach’s biggest pre-occupation in life is the accumulation of flying miles. But what he says does make sense, though if you note the Sharks’ tendency to blow hot and cold, it would seem there best chance of getting beyond a quarterfinal is to play badly against the Lions and lose and then shock them with a rebound performance in Johannesburg a week later.

Du Preez made a big call in leaving Curwin Bosch out of his starting team. Bosch has been among the top scorers in Super Rugby this year. However, he has opted for stability and continuity by retaining Garth April in the No 10 jersey. And he also made a good point about Lwazi Mvovo’s impact at fullback. The Sharks want to play attacking rugby against the Lions, and Mvovo at fullback will better facilitate that.

“We feel Lwazi has played really well every time he has been at fullback. He brings a lot of security at the back and he is also a good attacking player, as we saw when he played for South Africa A last month. Garth has done well for us at 10 and we wanted to keep continuity in that position, while Curwin can cover both fullback and flyhalf off the bench.”

Possibly because they have the set-piece and forward pack that can stand up to them like other teams can’t, the Sharks are one of the teams that has come closest to upsetting the Lions at Emirates Airlines Park. They played good attacking rugby in that game and Du Preez is looking or a repeat.

“We have to be very accurate in the set pieces and then we have to put their key players under pressure. If you give them opportunities to attack, they will grab them, so we have to be accurate on defence,” said Du Preez.

“But it is not just about stopping the Lions. We have shown against them that we can also play attacking rugby. We can’t go into our shells in this one. We will take our attacking opportunities when they arise, make no mistake about that. We want a repeat performance of that first round game in Johannesburg. We felt very unlucky to lose there.”