Stormers and Sharks in the hunt for play-off place
Both the Stormers and the Sharks need a win to progress to the Super Rugby play-offs, so that makes their Newlands meeting today (kick-off 3.05pm) a proper crunch match.
While the Stormers have been plagued by injury in recent weeks, the Sharks have also had to deal with the unpleasant certainty that is injury ahead of their last regular-season game, though not to the extent of the Stormers.
But it's part of the game – as those who choose to give a diplomatic response to the injury question always utter – and while that's true, taking the field without a number of your stars makes a clinical performance even more important.
So, here are three tips for each side.
For the Stormers:
Hit 'em back
This week, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck spoke about the Sharks' big ball-carriers, and that alone makes a massive defensive effort a non-negotiable. More specifically, hitting those ball-carriers back and stopping their offloading game is crucial. While the Stormers' defence improved from their game against the Lions to their Sunwolves fixture, another step-up will be needed today. Last week, they produced a strong defensive effort, but one lapse later in the game (which led to Sunwolves fullback Semisi Masirewa's try) tainted the solid display it had been until then.
Yeah, it was one mistake, but there's no room for that today.
Watch the space in behind
During Thursday's team announcement press conference, Fleck said that they had learnt a lot from the Sharks' win over Western Province in the 2018 Currie Cup final. He went on to explain that the Sharks' performance helped them in terms of what to expect from Robert du Preez's side, but also added that he expects the Sharks to also come at them with something unexpected.
It's nothing new from the men in black, so the Stormers will by now know that they need to watch out for those kicks in behind their defence, among other things. Even with Dillyn Leyds always ready to clean up at the back or even use it as a counter-attacking opportunity, it's something the men from the Cape have been caught out with before.
So they need to remember it.
Mix it up
While coming with something unexpected in a number of areas wouldn't be a bad thing, the maul is one the Stormers could benefit from mixing up a little. The Sharks know all about that, and while the maul is one of the Stormers' biggest strengths, it's also become quite predicatable and easy to defend at times (remember the Crusaders game?). Peel off the front of the lineout. Don't just drive off the middle or the front ball.
The Stormers should do whatever works for them, but keeping the Sharks guessing will surely help.
For the Sharks:
Beware the breakdown
Two words – Jaco Coetzee.
The Stormers loosie has been quite a find this season, and while he's had to wait some time to get an extended run in the starting lineup, he's sure made the most of it.
Injuries to a number of Stormers stars have opened the door for Coetzee, and until now, his work at the breakdown, gainline success and the occasional away-putting offload have been really impressive.
Count on that counter
I've mentioned the Sharks' ability to sneak those little dinks over defences and how the Stormers need to be well-aware of it, but if there's one thing the Sharks should keep in mind when it comes to the Stormers, it's the counter-attacking ability they have in the back three. Make that in broken play, and it becomes a significant threat. Leyds has shown many times what he can do when the ball goes loose. And it doesn't just require a handling fumble for him to give us a glimpse...he's dangerous from the back, period. Pair that with wings who know how to navigate the pitch with their pace and feet, and the counter becomes a factor to mark in red.
Secure scrum superiority
No revelations here – the scrum is a platform.
After being bossed at the set-piece by the Lions, Bok tighthead Wilco Louw said they were out to right their scrummaging wrongs against the Sunwolves the following week. They did that, to a certain extent, but for the first three quarters of the game, the Sunwolves' scrum did well. The scrum is of course going to be a proper battle with four Springbok props going head to head, and if the Sharks can put the hosts under pressure in that department (and keep in mind what the Sunwolves did last week), they can make it an unpleasant afternoon for their opposition pack.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain)
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 David Meihuizen, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Dan Kriel.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 S'bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (captain), 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Cullen Collopy , 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Rhyno Smith.@WynonaLouw