Juan Schoeman will replace the injured Beast Mtawarira in the Sharks front row against the Stormers. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix
While today’s game against the Stormers, 5pm at Kings Park, is full of exciting backline players, the true battle will be up front between the forwards. It is clichéd, but especially true for the Sharks, who have failed to spark when their forwards have been under pressure.

In the Stormers they face a foe that, in the Currie Cup last year  critically in the final  they met their match and were bullied off the ball in all the tight phases, and the set pieces. However, it is a different tournament, and a new year, so the hope is things will be different.

Philip van der Walt spoke in the week how the memory of last year’s Currie Cup defeat, which really did come down to a poor forward display, still lives in the memory, but only as a ‘bitter pill'.

“The only place where the Stormers’ performance in the Currie Cup final is really on the mind is that it was such a bitter pill to swallow. The Stormers will use that confidence coming here from the final, knowing they can scrum hard, and drive us, but we just have to front up.”

Indeed, it is where the game will be won and lost today. The Sharks have suffered at scrum time before this season  most notably against the Lions  and when that part of their game went downhill, they quickly retracted into their shells.

The hosts will also be up against it as their veteran scrummager Beast Mtawarira is out of action after pulling up lame against the Bulls last week. Coach Robert du Preez admits it is indeed a big loss, but he does have faith in his deputy, Juan Schoeman.

Robert du Preez says the battle upfront will dictate their game against the Stormers. Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

“Beast brings a mass of experience, and he brings a lot of passion and aggression with his leadership,” Du Preez explained. “He has been playing so well, which is good for South Africa. He is a loss, but Juan Schoeman who comes in ... he must step up, and he has done that for us. He is a very able replacement.”

The coach admits that this game is all about the forwards, because of the platform they can lay for the Sharks to go on from and win, and for the fact that it is a critical point of dominance for any team to try and gather.

“It’s all about the pack, about forward dominance, if we don’t get that then we are going to have a long afternoon,” Du Preez said. “Scrums, line-outs and set pieces will be key, that is where they will try and target us. We need to try and get ascendancy in any way we can.”

The coach is serious about getting ascendancy, and a fair shot at the set pieces, while admitting he is concerned about the way in which the Stormers set up their scrum. They have in their ranks some of the best in the business, in Wilco Louw and Steven Kitshoff, but Du Preez has asked the officials to keep an eye on them.

“We are a little concerned a bit about their stability at scrum time,” Du Preez admitted. “We have spoken to the officials about their scrums. Additionally though, from our point of view, at line-out time we have to stop their mauls, and we have worked hard on that.”

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