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The Stormers-Sharks Super Rugby semi-|final is shaping up to be a grudge match of the highest order, although Stormers’ coach Allister Coetzee says that there is “no score to settle” at Newlands on Saturday.
And, for once, the Stormers have managed to dodge the injury bogey as talismanic flyhalf Peter Grant has been passed fit to play on Saturday.
The score is 1-1 between the Stormers and Sharks this year after the two teams won their respective home league games.
The Sharks were dynamic in dismantling the Reds 30-17 in Brisbane at the weekend, with their impressive attacking play backed up by an unrelenting defensive effort.
After only just reaching the playoffs in sixth position on the log, the Sharks are now suddenly in the semi-finals and will fancy their chances of travelling all the way from Brisbane to Cape Town and beating the top-of-the-log Stormers.
“There is no score to settle. We want to win a semi-final! We want to make sure that we get it right this weekend and progress in the competition to the last stage,” Coetzee said yesterday.
“It is going to be a hell of a tough match. I mean, the Sharks just overpowered the Reds there. One thing about South African sides is that you know there will be a hell of a physicality coming, and the Sharks showed that at the weekend.
“It was a really good performance and, once again, it is up to you as the team whether external factors such as jet-lag get to you, and that was never a factor for them. They just put it aside and got off to a great start, and that was a fantastic approach to what they wanted to achieve.”
Coetzee pointed out that the Sharks’ breakdown work was also superb and, coupled with the physicality showed in their victory over the Stormers in Durban in May, it presents the Cape side with a massive test upfront, especially as they are still waiting on the fitness of star No 8 |Duane Vermeulen.
“They built a good lead, and it is difficult to play catch-up in any play-off game. They were very effective, and didn’t make as many mistakes as the Reds. Also, they forced the Reds to turn over a lot of balls,” Coetzee said.
“The Reds were dominating in the second half and had a lot of possession, and the Sharks had to make almost 200 tackles in the game.
“However, every time there was a slip-up – a knock-on or a mistake by the Reds that broke their rhythm. But the Sharks were really clinical and their counter-attack was really good whenever they got turnover possession.”
The importance of a quality flyhalf was illustrated in Brisbane as the Sharks’ Frederic Michalak controlled the game expertly, while the Reds missed the suspended Quade Cooper and then had replacement Ben Lucas go off injured after just 20 minutes.
So, it will be a relief to the Stormers that Grant is fit to play on Saturday after taking a knock to his quadricep muscle against the Rebels. He sat out of training last Thursday, along with Gio Aplon and Rynhardt Elstadt, with Coetzee saying at the time: “We just want to make sure that there isn’t any swelling before you run the guy.”
Yesterday, Coetzee said: “Peter Grant, Gio and Rynhardt are all fine and are all good to go.”
The Stormers held a two-day camp in Hermanus at the weekend, where Vermeulen completed the training sessions. But Coetzee said that the star No 8 had not been cleared yet for the semi-final.
“We have to keep monitoring and see how he progresses tomorrow, and throughout the week,” Coetzee said. “We will also see how Schalk Burger and Nick Koster are doing tomorrow, but they were behind Duane last week.”
Bulls winger Bjorn Basson is being treated in a New Zealand hospital after suffering a torn intestine during their play-off match against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday, reports Sapa-AP.
He left the field during the first half and later underwent surgery. Bulls chief executive Barend van Graan said the 25-year-old Basson would have to remain in New Zealand for at least five days.