Stamina key for Sharks

2012-07-28 00:00

THE Sharks’ discipline and their stamina hold the key to them upsetting the fancied Stormers in this evening’s Super Rugby semi-final at Newlands.

The Chiefs, brave and persistent, yesterday advanced to next Saturday’s final when they edged the seven-time champion Crusaders 20-17 in Hamilton.

Neutrals in South Africans (both of them) wanting the Super Rugby trophy brought home will be hoping for a Stormers win today, setting up a final against the Chiefs in Cape Town next weekend. A Sharks win will see them adding to their voyager miles by having to embark on a two-day trek all the way to the Chiefs’ home paddock in New Zealand.

The Stormers and Sharks — different in tactical approach and style — have taken contrasting routes to the semi-finals.

The Stormers, ignoring the frills, have kicked and tackled superbly in taking the direct route, losing only two games and beating everyone on their home turf.

Ironically, their backline, crowded with Springboks, has largely been ignored on attack and they have scored fewer tries than all other 14 teams in the competition.

Instead they have excelled without the ball, applying pressure, squeezing the opposition and relying on Peter Grant to kick penalty goals.

And, boy, has Grant kicked goals. The Stormers flyhalf has enjoyed an extraordinary season, succeeding with 94% of his goal-kicks (45 out of 48).

His captain Jean de Villiers this week described Grant as “the Stormers best player this year”.

“He has clinched many games in our favour, and it was his difficult penalty which helped us beat the Sharks [15-12] earlier this year at Newlands,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Sharks have meandered through their campaign, failing at unlikely moments and then winning matches they were expected to lose. They have, in adversity, found late momentum in the competition to advance to the last four.

Sharks coach John Plumtree does not expect the Stormers to change tack today. They have a superior lineout with two lighthouse locks in Springbok locks Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth, and they will be happy to play the game up and down the touchline.

Coach Allister Coetzee’s approach is both the strength and weakness of the Stormers.

They are exceptionally difficult to beat in front of their vocal supporters at Newlands.

But they do place all their eggs in Grant’s basket. This could lead to problems if they do not win the battle for territory, if the Sharks hold their discipline — and deny Grant penalty opportunities — or if the Stormers flyhalf has a rare off day with the boot. So far he has not failed them.

The Sharks, wary of the Stormers lineout, will want to keep the ball in play, but that will involve the travel-fatigued in more running, more breakdowns and more tackles.

The Stormers, first on the log and at home, are the obvious favourites.

They have scrambled to win after win this year, they are fresh after a week’s break, they have Etzebeth back to add some fire to the belly of their pack and they are meeting the jet-lagged Sharks who will surely run out of legs in the final quarter.

The Sharks will arrive with their heads high after their win over the Reds, last year’s champions, in Brisbane. They certainly have momentum and they now have more attacking strings to their bow with their backs, and the in-form JP Pietersen, complementing the powerful running of their big-carriers.

Plumtree was asked whether the Brisbane win will not have done more for the confident Sharks than the week’s rest has done for the refreshed Stormers.

“That the million dollar question,” said Plumtree, “but I won’t be able to tell you the answer until after the game.”

Recent games between these two sides have been won on the gainline and the collisions will be fierce. The Sharks, with seven Springboks in their pack, are looking to their scrum to off-set the Stormers’ lineout advantage with their in-form backrow, backed by Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira, edging the physical battle.

The contest will be tight and hard with a missed opportunity, a marginal decision by referee Steve Walsh or a flash of brilliance deciding the outcome.

The Sharks have the tools to do the job away from home, but it will take something special to lift tired bodies to fresh heights — for the second time in a week – in the Stormers’ backyard.

TEAMS

Stormers – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Deon Fourie, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris,

2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.

Replacements: 16 Deon Carstens, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schrueder,

21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Sharks – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen,

13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (c),

5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis,

2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst,

18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Odwa Ndungane, 22 Riaan Viljoen.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia). Kick-off: 5.05 pm.

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