Loose mauls will decide the winner

2011-04-02 00:00

THE Stormers are talking down their chances, but they will take on the Sharks at King’s Park this evening confident that physically and mentally they have the winning of this important Super Rugby clash.

The Capetonians, amid much chest-thumping, were twice out-muscled in Durban, first in the Super 14 and then in the Currie Cup final, and as the Stormers they have not won at King’s Park since 2004.

The Sharks’ recent success against the Stormers (and Western Province) has been built on aggressive defence and on controlling the gainline and today’s contest will again be decided by the fierce collisions at the breakdown and in the tackle area.

Returning captain and flank Schalk Burger, who joins Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen in a threatening Stormers backrow, said that the Sharks had one of the most effective loose trios in the competition in Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel and Willem Alberts.

“We were outplayed and out-muscled by them in both games at King’s Park last year. The Sharks are an excellent team and notoriously difficult to beat in Durban.”

But the Stormers have good reason to arrive in Durban with a spring in their step. Not only are they the log-leaders and the only unbeaten team in the competition, but they showed a fresh physicality in taking on, and beating, the Bulls at Loftus a fortnight ago.

They are also stronger than they were for the Currie Cup final in October with the composed Peter Grant is at flyhalf, lighthouse Andries Bekker at lock and Jaque Fourie at outside centre.

The Sharks, in contrast, are missing Currie Cup final matchwinner Pat Lambie (broken finger) who scored 25 points in their 30-10 victory. Lambie’s absence was felt at Twickenham on Sunday when goal-kicks, and tackles on the inside channel, were missed.

And then, of course, there is the travel. While the Stormers have been contentedly based in Cape Town for six weeks, the Sharks have toured the world. Rugby’s globetrotters have in a month played matches in Australia, New Zealand, England and now South Africa on successive weekends. Five of their players are battling to shake off ’flu in a short week of preparation that only started on Tuesday after their Sunday game in London. The Stormers, meanwhile, have had an uninterrupted week’s break since crushing the Force at Newlands.

But it is the Stormers’ mental approach which suggests that this time, anyway, they are ready for the Sharks’ challenge. Indeed, they are eager to seize the tag of underdogs. Matt Proudfoot, in charge of the Stormers’ pack, said that, like Burger, he was impressed by the way the Sharks recovered against the Crusaders.

“I think very few teams would have been able to respond in the way that the Sharks did. They outplayed us in the Currie Cup final and we realise this is a tough physical challenge,” Proudfoot told reporters.

Head coach Allister Coetzee joined the Stormers’ praise-singers and said that the Sharks had been setting the pace for South African rugby since last year.

“Now, after two losses, they will come out in front of their home crowd and make it as tough as possible for us. We saw how well they came back in the second half and got stuck into the Crusaders.”

Sharks coach John Plumtree said that the Stormers, “in terms of physical presence are similar to the Crusaders.”

“They’re big in the midfield (Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie), their pack is physical and — defensively, they’re well-organised. We’re playing a top side on the weekend and it’s going to be a huge challenge.”

Indeed it will. This will be a searching test of character, intensity and stamina and the certainty the Sharks only obvious advantage is that they are playing at home.

They certainly cannot afford to miss the tackles they did against the Crusaders, or allow the Stormers to boss the set pieces, if they are to stay in the contest.

We are just over a third of the way in a long and hectic competition, but a Sharks’ victory this evening, after the many disruptions of the past weeks, would be a significant achievement, a massive, timely boost after two successive losses … and against the odds.

TEAMS

Sharks: Louis Ludik, Odwa Ndungane, Stefan Terblanche (captain), Meyer Bosman, JP Pietersen, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Willem Alberts, Keegan Daniel, Alistair Hargreaves, Steven Sykes, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: John Smit, Eugene van Staden, Gerhard Mostert, Jacques Botes, Conrad Hoffmann, Adrian Jacobs, Lwazi Mvovo.

Stormers: Gio Aplon, Danie Poolman, Jaque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger (captain), Andries Bekker, Rynhardt Elstadt, Brok Harris, Deon Fourie, Wicus Blaauw.

Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, CJ van der Linde, De Kock Steenkamp, Nick Koster, Ricky Januarie, Gary van Aswegen, Juan de Jongh.

Referee: Mark Lawrence. Kick-off: 5.05 pm (SS).

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