Cape Town - In Super Rugby terms, Allister Coetzee leads Jake White 1-0, so White’s Sharks will be keen to level the scores at Kings Park on Saturday.
And you would think they would be able to, considering the wealth of talent and experience that the Durbanites possess compared to the injury-ridden Stormers side. Coetzee was quick to grab the underdog tag on Thursday after naming his team, where he confirmed that Schalk Burger (neck) is sitting out, with Siya Kolisi at No 7, and Sailosi Tagicakibau coming in for the injured Kobus van Wyk at wing.
Reserve prop Oli Kebble is out for eight weeks with a syndesmosis problem, so ex-SA Under-20 loosehead Sti Sithole comes on to the bench.
But the Stormers beat White’s high-riding Brumbies team 35-22 at Newlands last year, so surely Coetzee knows his good mate’s strengths and weaknesses all too well? “He’s got no weaknesses!” Coetzee said sarcastically in Bellville on Thursday.
“No look, we all know that Jake is an astute coach, a World Cup-winning coach. Last year he got the Brumbies to the final, and this year with the Sharks is self-explanatory, they are log-leaders. So he’s been doing something right. Jake will get the players up for this one. They are trendsetters in Super Rugby, they are the best South African franchise at this point, so it’s a massive challenge for us.”
Asked if there will be any phone calls or SMSes to his “old buddy”, Coetzee replied: “I suppose the emphasis is on old ...”
Apart from the banter, though, the Stormers know that they will have to be even better than they were against the Cheetahs if they want to cause a shock at Kings Park. And their biggest challenge will be in the pack, where a full Springbok front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis lie in wait.
But while Alistair Vermaak is a rookie, Deon Fourie the third-choice hooker and Pat Cilliers the second-best tighthead, forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot is confident that they can hold their own.
Vermaak faces a tough test against Jannie du Plessis, who will utilise all his old tricks at scrum-time to win penalties from referee Jaco Peyper.
“I don’t think it’s in his (Vermaak’s) character to be overawed. His character, like any competitive character, you want to play against the best in the business. If you use the Serena Williams scenario, if you come up against the world’s best, you want to prove yourself,” Proudfoot said on Thursday.
But even if the Stormers forwards measure up, there is still Frans Steyn to deal with. He provides the magic for the Sharks, along with halfback partner Cobus Reinach.
Stormers pair Kurt Coleman and Nic Groom face arguably the biggest challenge of their season, and if they at least achieve parity, then the Cape side stand a chance.
“It’s difficult (to stop Steyn), because he is a talented player and a big unit for a 10 – he’s good in contact and is a powerful runner. We’ve got to back our systems and the big thing is to man-up. You’ve got to put everything on the table and man-up,” the Stormers coach said.
“Kurt’s big job is to give us direction on Saturday, take charge and get the team to play forward and on the front foot.”
Teams for Kings Park:
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Tera Mtembu, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Heimar Williams.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Alistair Vermaak. Bench: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Manuel Carizza, 21 Dylon Frylinck, 22 Demetri Catrakilis, 23 Peter Grant. Referee: Jaco Peyper.