CAPE TOWN - It’s been a tough year for the Stormers, but at least they will be boosted by the fact that hooker Scarra Ntubeni and lock JD Schickerling will be available for Saturday’s derby against the Sharks (5.15pm kickoff).
The duo featured for Western Province in the Rugby Challenge on their return from injury. Scrumhalf Justin Phillips’ rib injury still needs to be assessed to determine if he will be fit to play. The Stormers will also be without fullback SP Marais, who has a quad injury, as well as lock Eben Etzebeth who continues to recover from a back and nerve injury.
The other players on the long-term injury list are Jaco Coetzee (repeated concussion), Seabelo Senatla (groin) and Dan du Plessis (knee), with their returns to be determined by their recovery progresses. This has been the Stormers’ worst Super Rugby season ever, and not even a massive win against the Sharks could possibly do enough to put some filling over the cracks that started showing on their three-match tour to Australasia already.
To put the Stormers’ woes down to one particular issue would be a leap, and although they are officially out of play-off contention, they have a massive battle awaiting them at Newlands on Saturday. The Sharks will of course have gained huge confidence from their laudable comeback victory over the Lions, which saw them end the South Africa conference leaders’ impressive winning streak over their SA counterparts at the weekend.
A big part of the Sharks’ triumph was thanks to their defence, and it will be one of Robbie Fleck’s charges’ biggest tests this weekend. The Stormers’ attack has been an up-and-down curve throughout the season and often times small errors with ball in hand have seen them ruin promising attacking opportunities, while bigger issues like too much predictability and poor decision-making - and sometimes just plain apparent cluelessness - have also cost them.
The kind of threat the Sharks will pose defensively in that regard is a big one, and for the Stormers, soaking up that pressure and maintaining composure despite that will be crucial. The way the Durbanites closed out last weekend's game is also something that should be marked in red by the Stormers, who have struggled to produce 80-minute performances this year.
Seeing that ending with a little bit of pride and dignity will be the Stormers’ objective, a good start will be just as important as sustained pressure throughout the game. Their own defence will also be a crucial aspect, and it’s another area the Cape side will want to get right after a number of confusing displays.