DURBAN - Here is an interesting question. Who has the most successful line-out in Super Rugby?
You would think it would be one of the New Zealand teams or perhaps a South African team like the Stormers, who boast two of the best locks in world rugby in Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit
The answer, in fact, is the Sharks who are right at the top of the table, with the Stormers in 12th place. Of course, stats such as these are interesting to know and important as part of an overall picture but victories and log points are all that count.
Still, the Sharks’ second-rowers are pleased with their efforts and the last team they want to slip up against in the set pieces is their rivals from the Cape.
Etienne Oosthuizen, one of the Sharks’ unheralded foot soldiers in the forward trenches over the last five years of Super Rugby, is playing his 50th Super Rugby match for them this week, and he would love to cap the occasion with a win over his illustrious rivals from the Cape.
“These derbies are always special and it is a big honour to achieve a milestone in a game of this importance. These derbies take on a significance of their own without a word having to be spoken,” Oosthuizen said.
“When you look at the Stormers pack and the big names they have, and you look at our pack and how it is coming together really nicely, you can anticipate a massive forward battle.
“It is going to be highly physical and nobody is going to be willing to take a step back.”
When pressed on whether the Sharks expected provocation from belligerent players like Etzebeth, he laughed and refused to take the bait.
“They like to impose themselves and get under your skin, so for us standing up to the Stormers’ pack is going to be about controlled aggression,” Oosthuizen said diplomatically.
“You do not want to be carded in a game like this. You just have to keep your head as an individual and as a team maintain composure, and let the game unfold.
“Ultimately, the only thing that matters is who finishes on top on the scoreboard, not the personal battles.”
Oosthuizen is from Rustenburg who spent a spell in Canberra under Jake White, and when the former Springbok coach returned to South Africa to coach the Sharks, he brought back with him the lock he had talented spotted.
White is long gone from Durban and Oosthuizen himself is now in his last season with the Sharks before the inevitable move to France.
The 25-year-old has done the hard yards in Durban in Super Rugby and knows what Saturday’s match will be all about.
“The forward battle between these teams is always hyped up but the modern game is very much about 15 v 15,” he said.
“Each individual has to do his part (given how much more the ball is in play these days) and when you have possession you have to make it count.
“That is something we have been working very hard on the whole season, especially our conversion rate into points of entries into the opposition 22.
“It has seldom clicked for the Sharks, and conversion of opportunities in the danger zone is an aspect of the game that the Sharks hope finally comes together.”
But back to that impressive line-out succession rate.
“We have been fortunate in that almost every game,” Oosthuizen said.