DURBAN – When it comes to Super Rugby derbies between the Sharks and the Stormers there is no such thing as a dead rubber. In fact you can bank on Newlands coming alive as the struggling Stormers save their best for last and the Sharks move heaven and hell to get their hands on the log points they desperately need.
The Sharks need to win today and again next week in Durban against the Jaguares to secure a quarter-final while the Capetonians are smarting from the humiliation of winning just five matches in yet another flop of a season and, as coach Robbie Fleck has said: “to regain our pride there is no better team for us to beat than the Sharks.”
The two teams have been scrapping since Fleck was an outside centre for the Stormers - nothing has changed over the unfolding years.
Hence this understatement from Fleck: “There’s a lot riding on this game against the Sharks. Everything hasn’t gone to plan this season‚ so this is a last chance for us to get things right.”
Fullback Dylln Leyds added to the call to arms when he deflected attention away from the 50th cap he will earn on Saturday.
“It’s a last chance to show the Newlands faithful that we want to die and play for this jersey‚” Leyds said. “We want to end the season on a good note. There’s a lot more happening this week than someone getting his 50th cap.”
The Sharks know what they are in for. It is hardly a case of them walking into an ambush. They only have to think back to their fixture at Kings Park against the Stormers when they had to empty the tank to scrape home 24-17.
They struggled against the Stormers in the set scrums that day. Heck they struggle in the scrums be it the Stormers or, painfully, Western Province. Let’s not mention the Currie Cup final ... No wonder Sharks captain Ruan Botha said this week that “the set pieces will be the biggest battle.”
And while much has been made this season about the Stormers’ inability to win away from Newlands - not one away win this year - the Sharks have not been to flash on the road either.
Usually the Sharks travel well but this season they have won just one game away from home, and failure to win today will see them post their fewest road wins in a season since winning none in 2005.
More encouraging for the Sharks is the fact that they have won 13 of their last 19 games against the Stormers, including their last four on the bounce, and the Stormers have lost their last four games in the competition — the last time they lost more consecutive games was a five-game drought in 2014.
Sharks flyhalf Robert du Preez was in blue and white colours for three of those last four Stormers losses to the Sharks and in his return to his old stomping ground for what will be the tightest of struggles, it will be reassuring to Robert du Preez Snr that his son is by some margin Super Rugby’s leading points scorer. His five tries, 28 penalties and 40 conversions give him 189 points to the 164 of Bernard Foley of the Waratahs and the 149 of the Chiefs’ Damian McKenzie.
Captain Botha will be using Du Preez’s unerring boot whenever possible in what amounts to a final for the Sharks. There will be gambling on lineout drives in this match.
“It is going to be massive battle,” Botha said. “Coming from a loss in Argentina, the Stormers will hit back even though there is nothing on the line. It makes them really dangerous because they can go out and freely express themselves and play like they want to. But we are looking forward to seeing what they will bring. We will be ready.”
The Stormers team is:
15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 JJ Engelbrecht, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit (captain), 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 Jan de Klerk, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensberg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Josh Stander, 23 Craig Barry.
The Sharks team is:
15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (captain), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Wian Vosloo, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Kobus van Wyk.
Referee: Jaco Peyper