Stormers hold most of the cards

2012-03-03 00:00

THE Sharks, missing a couple of their bruisers, do not appear to have the firepower to match the Stormers, and silence the Newlands crowd, in their Super Rugby outing there tonight.

Contests between these two teams in recent seasons have consistently been won by the team dominating the collisions on the gainline and the Stormers will fancy their chances against a Sharks pack denied the services of Springboks Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel, Beast Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis and Ryan Kankowski.

Sharks coach John Plumtree has spoken all week about the need for his team to stand up physically to the challenge. They were bullied by the Stormers in losing twice to them in Super Rugby last year when Plumtree was reluctantly forced to concede that it had been “men against boys”.

Injuries have left him with a lightweight pack tonight and compounding their problems — after they lost five of their own lineouts against the Bulls at Loftus last weekend — is that tonight they are bumping the tallest lock pairing in Super Rugby in Andries Bekker at 2,08 m and Eben Etzebeth at 2,03 m.

Plumtree is confident that his backline containing six internationals can challenge if they play off a solid platform.

“We have to make sure we are accurate at set piece and then we can build some pressure. At the end of the day, if we get quick ball from rucks, with the backs that we’ve got, we know we can do some damage,” Plumtree said.

“We need to tidy up but we know how we can play. We want to play a lot of phases and keep the ball in hand. But, first, we need to win ball. Last week our lineout failed, and that was a big part of our problem.”

The Sharks coach is hoping that Ross Skeate, playing against his old team-mates, will win his own lineout ball but the looming, towering Bekker is a real threat and Bismarck du Plessis will have to be on the button with his throwing.

Another area of concern will be the Stormers’ rolling maul, which they used effectively against the Hurricanes in the first round. Stormers coach Allister Coetzee would have taken note of how successful the Bulls were on the drive last week and he will look to expose the Sharks in that area again tonight.

“Yeah, we lack a bit of bulk because of injuries,” Sharks assistant coach Grant Bashford said from Cape Town yesterday, “but we will still worry them if we play well.”

Vice-captain Bismarck du Plessis agrees.

“During the last 20 minutes of the Bulls game, we showed that our fitness levels were very good and we played better rugby. When we kept the ball in hand, we showed we can attack strongly.”

And, if Plumtree needed anything more to worry about tonight, Mark Lawrence is the referee and the Sharks’ discipline will be under the spotlight. Last weekend the Sharks were on the wrong end of Jonathan Kaplan’s penalty count at Loftus while Lawrence, across at Ellis Park, was gaily dishing out penalties (14 were goaled) as the Lions edged out the Cheetahs.

The Stormers appear to hold most of the cards. They will have been encouraged by their win over the Hurricanes last week and mightily relieved to be facing a Sharks pack missing most of their hard men. They will also have their vocal locals at their backs, lifting their intensity and keeping them honest for 80 minutes.

The Sharks could spend much of the game on the backfoot but, if they can somehow hang on and stay in touch on the scoreboard until the final quarter, the impact of their superior bench could still be decisive in the closing minutes.

The Sharks will be enthusiastic and brave in attempting to counter the Stormers’ forward strengths, contest the breakdown, and in trying to attack with ball in hand. While they have the backs to worry the Stormers, they do not have the tools, the heavy machinery, to control the forward battle. And therein lies the rub.

TEAMS

Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Frederic Michalak, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Dale Chadwick.

Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Lubabalo Mtembu, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 Paul Jordaan.

Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nick Koster, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.

Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Frans Malherbe, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schrueder, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.

Kick-off: 7.10 pm. Referee: Mark Lawrence (SA).

Today’s fixtures (home team first, SA times): Highlanders v Crusaders 8.35 am; Reds v Force 10.40 am; Cheetahs v Bulls 5.05 pm; Stormers v Sharks 7.10 pm.

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