Cape Town – The Stormers boast a decent recent record against the Sharks when it comes to Newlands clashes in Super Rugby, but they have not forgotten what happened at the venue in last year’s Currie Cup final.
On that day last October the Western Province team started as overwhelming favourites. However, the Sharks outmuscled them and in the end scored a comfortable win.
The Stormers reversed that result when they visited Durban in the third week of Super Rugby, with the Stormers this time outmuscling the Sharks.
The Cape side also played a good tactical game and the eventual winning margin was more comfortable than it might have appeared as the Stormers controlled play for most of the way.
A few things have changed since the Kings Park clash, not the least of those being that the Stormers have lost several members of the pack that bossed the game that day.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth were all key performers for the Stormers who won’t be present on Saturday.
Will that mean a reversal of the balance of power when it comes to the physical battle?
Possibly, although you also have to factor in that the Sharks have had to travel to and from Buenos Aires over the past week and the travel aspect might be a debilitating factor for them.
One thing Stormers coach Robbie Fleck won’t be doing though is underestimating the Sharks, and while he says his team will pay attention to what worked for them when they got it spot on tactically in Durban, they will also be mindful of what last year’s Currie Cup final showed.
“The Sharks have a decent off-loading game and it was a strength of theirs in the Currie Cup,” said Fleck.
“We do have to be careful of that. We are going to have to present a decent defensive line and knock them back in the tackle. If they manage to get in behind us that is when their offloading becomes very difficult to defend against.”
Fleck noted that the Sharks’ tactics have changed as the season has progressed.
“The Sharks have a decent kicking game and certainly at the beginning of the competition they were good at that and relied on it but as the competition has progressed they’ve kept more ball in hand,” said Fleck.
“Certainly in the last 15 minutes against the Jaguares they showed how good they can be at keeping ball in hand and we have taken note of that. They are a tough side to play against. They are defensively very strong and organised and they also have a good set piece, they back their maul and their big ball carriers.
“Defensively we will have to be very good and we got some pointers from the Jaguares, who I felt were outstanding against the Sharks and put them under pressure. So for that matter did the Hurricanes the week before. We have taken a look at how we played them in the first round game. Tactically we were very smart that day. With the team we have at the moment (after injuries) we must play to our strengths.”
Fleck said that he hadn’t detained the team too long on the review of last week’s patchy 31-18 win over the Sunwolves.
“To be honest we didn’t look at that game much. There was just a quick review. It’s all about the Sharks now and that is what we have been focusing on from the start of the week. Straight away yesterday we showed one or two clips of the Sunwolves game, but it has pretty much been 90 percent about the Sharks.
“Everything is on the line in this game. If we win it we go through to the playoffs, if we lose it our season is over.”
In that sense this is another final, just like the Currie Cup decider was last October.
At full-strength you’d expect the Stormers to win comfortably on their home field as they’d then have the material to dominate physically, but they are far from full-strength and coach Fleck has had to mix and match his selections in the past few weeks to paper over cracks.
The Sharks are a team that are almost bereft of any other way of winning if they are fronted physically, as the Durban game between these teams showed.
That will be the Stormers’ mission, but it is a quest that has been complicated by the absence through injury of powerful forwards such as Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, regular captain Siya Kolisi, JD Schickerling and Juarno Augustus.
One player who has made big strides though since the Durban game is lock Cobus Wiese, who has been a more than capable replacement for Etzebeth, while Jaco Coetzee, who was outstanding back then in what for him was a rare start, has also grown over the past few months.
Read this story on SuperSport.com