It is one of the strange anomalies of Super Rugby that the Stormers topped the standings yet neither their 9 or 10 was within a shout of Springbok selection, but that hardly means Peter Grant and Dewaldt Duvenage will not come in for close attention from the Sharks.
Sharks coach John Plumtree said the pair were seriously under-rated.
“At this stage of the tournament, where a team gets a home semi and their 9 and 10 are not involved in the national set-up, is probably unlike any other country,” he said.
“Look at New Zealand and their semi-finalists – the halfbacks for the Chiefs and the Crusaders are in the All Blacks’ frame.
“Grant and Duvenage have been consistent in their performances – that’s what has impressed me the most about them.”
Grant, in particular, seems to be one of those unfortunate players who escapes media hype despite routinely starring for his province. Somebody will say his tactical kicking is not up to scratch, and next thing that is the reason he is not picked – even though his team has no problem with gaining territory.
“I can just say that to me he is probably the most consistent 10 in the country, yet he is not looked at by the national selectors,” Plumtree observed.
Of the Stormers team in general, Plumtree said: “They don’t change too much in what they do, but what they do is really efficient.
“They work really hard defensively; their defence has been talked about enough. It’s a wall that’s hard to break down. Their lineout is really big, they have an unfair advantage with some monsters in their second row!
“Their set piece is something they rely on. They gain a lot of confidence out of winning a territory game, they don’t mind kicking out because they attack the opposition lineout. There are trends about them that are really consistent.
“They have a real belief in what they do, their leadership is clearly very strong because they get out there and play consistent rugby each week – that’s why they finished top, that’s why they’re in a situation where, if they beat us, they get a home final.
“They also feed off the fact that they have a lot of good players but don’t have as many Boks as some of the other teams. That motivates them as well.”
Grant and Duvenage are prime examples.
Plumtree was asked whether the break given to the Stormers might in fact hinder them, in contrast with a Sharks side that is gaining increasing momentum after successive wins over the Bulls, Cheetahs and Reds.
“It’s one of those questions that is very hard to answer, it’s a million-dollar question. The Stormers had no choice, nor did we, so I can probably only accurately answer that after the game.”
The difference is that the Stormers have been relaxing in Cape Town, the Sharks have been to Brisbane and back, and that has got to take its toll.
“It’s something we haven’t really talked about,” Plumtree said. “We’re not putting a big focus on what we’ve been through, but rather on what’s coming.” And how much confidence can the Sharks take out of beating the Reds in an away game before going to the Stormers?
“Every challenge is different,” Plumtree said.
“The boys scored some great tries in that match. We knew that it would be important to start well against the Reds, we wanted to keep the crowd quiet and create a little bit of doubt.
“We felt they didn’t rate us all that highly down there, so we wanted to start well, put some doubt in their minds, and the boys went out and did that. However, the plan wasn’t to make 240 tackles, but that’s what we had to do, unfortunately, and that ultimately confirmed the character of the team.”