Sharks vs the nation’s favourites

2010-05-08 00:00

THE Sharks will be playing the rest of the country when they take on the Stormers in their Super 14 game at King’s Park tonight.

The Stormers, second on the log (before last night’s game at Loftus), are anticipating a home semi-final, but the Sharks could make a dreadful mess of their campaign by beating them today.

Not only could it cost them a playoff at Newlands — and home ground advantage is massive in the semi-finals of this competition — but it would leave them vulnerable to a fast finish by the Hurricanes, Crusaders, Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies, who are all still within reach of a playoff spot.

The Cape Town franchise, and all those neutrals outside Shark country, want to see an all-South African, Bulls versus Stormers Super 14 final — but don’t talk to John Smit and his players about taking it easy tonight.

The Stormers are the Sharks’ most bitter South African rivals and, with pride and Springbok places at stake, they are not about to provide Schalk Burger’s team with an easy passage to the final.

For years the cocooned Cape Town media has loudly and prematurely trumpeted its team’s cause and, finally, this year they have something to herald — a superbly balanced, disciplined and talented team with their sights set on a home semi-final.

Under the sensible coaching of Allister Coetzee and the captaincy of Burger, and with several expensive purchases in the close season, the Stormers have become an organised, solid outfit. Critically, they have beefed up their pack and arguably the most effective loose trio in the competition (Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw and Burger) are playing off a solid platform.

The Stormers, in contrast to the Sharks, have done just about everything by the book this season. Their imports (Bryan Habana, though missing tonight, and Jaque Fourie) have made major contributions, while the Sharks’ high-profile signings (Juan Hernandez and Louis Ludik) went missing before the tournament even started.

The Stormers have also found the balance between attack and defence, scoring several excellent tries and leaking precious few for the best points difference in the competition.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have defen­ded well enough, but try-scoring has become a lost art in Durban.

While the Stormers have scored 313 points with 141 against them (points difference 172), the Sharks are at 250 for and 263 against (-13). The Stormers are also the referees’ favourite team and have yet to pick up a yellow card, while five Sharks have spent time in the cooler.

Sharks coach John Plumtree and his former captain Johann Muller, who is out tonight with a broken arm, both believe the Stormers will advance to the Super 14 final against the Bulls, but they are also convinced that their team can still win tonight.

“The Stormers are the complete package,” said Plumtree, “but they have lost three times this season [at home to the Brumbies and to the Force and Reds on the road] and I believe we can beat them if we play well”.

Muller agreed. “The Stormers are a very good team, but they are beatable. If we can show the intensity of the last few weeks and put them under pressure, we have seen that they can be vulnerable.”

The Sharks — with Ruan Pienaar back at flyhalf and three powerful ball carriers in Jean Deysel, Willem Alberts and Ryan Kankowski at loose forward — will take the game to the Stormers on the gain line.

It will again be physical, but the Stormers’ defensive capabilities, their balanced loose trio, the lineout presence of lighthouse Andries Bekker and the threat posed by Fourie and Gio Aplon at outside threequarter, will give them the edge.

Very simply, it is a contest between the worst attackers in the competition, the Sharks, and the team with the best defensive record, the Stormers.

Even the most optimistic Sharks supporter must be wondering how his team will score enough points to win. Still, the Stormers will be wary against a team they have not beaten since 2005 and one which downed the Reds and the Blues in recent home games.

The Stormers will be given the bumpiest of rides by the Sharks tonight, but the massive prize on offer and the even spread of talent through the team should keep them on track for a home semi-final.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Jean Deysel, , 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.

Replacements 16 Craig Burden, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Jacques Botes 21 Andy Goode, 22 Andries Strauss.

Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Sireli Naqelevuki, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Tim Whitehead, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 JD Moller.

Replacements 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Eusebio Guinazu, 18 Anton van Zyl, 19 Pieter Louw, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Willem de Waal, 22 Joe Pietersen.

Referee: Stu Dickinson (Australia). Kickoff: 7.10 pm

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