DURBAN – It's the Sharks against the Stormers on Saturday. So who will slip on which banana peel and who will go bananas with joy?
Rugby writers Mike Greenaway, in the Sharks half of the field, and Wynona Louw, in the Stormers half of the field, take a light-hearted look at the match.
Etienne Oosthuizen has spoken about how the Stormers enforcers “try and get under your skin and lose your discipline” which got me thinking about the perfect retort for the likes of Oosthuizen when the verbal battle is raging on Saturday.
The angriest I have ever seen Eben Etzebeth was at a press conference in the quaint English town of Bagshot where the Boks were based before the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup in 2015. A Kiwi reporter told Eben he was a dead ringer for “Borat”, and it took every last inch of restraint from the Springbok lock to not spring over the top table and inflict serious bodily harm. Even then, Eben made a point of exiting the press conference in a direction that took him past the reporter and through clenched teeth growled a string of the choicest Afrikaans expletives. So if we are talking the tactic of riling the opposition, the word “Borat” muttered now and then might illicit an entertaining reaction.
It is interesting to note how the Capetonians this season have harped on about how they love to run the ball. Good on them for this approach but older rugby supporters will recall that Kings Park is in some ways the home of running rugby, although in the professional era, the Sharks for long periods have forgotten their heritage. I am talking about the Old Days of the Banana Boys and long deceased coaches such as Izak van Heerden, times when the Durbanites were so physically inferior to the teams from the Cape (and everywhere else for that matter), that their only tactic was to try and run the opposition off their feet.
But in the modern era there was a seismic shift in tactics between the Sharks and the Stormers. Early in the new millennium, these two teams were bitter rivals, and it was the Bobby Skinstad-led Stormers (yes, those were the days before he matured into Bob) that tried to run rings around a fearsome Sharks pack spearheaded by the snorting Mark Andrews. It was the broadsword of the Sharks v the rapier of the dainty Mountain Goats.
Robbie Fleck was a key part of that Stormers side that was big on showmanship and even had a player dare to wear pink boots at Loftus (Percy Montgomery). Well good on Fleckie for insisting on running rugby, but on Saturday he will see a Sharks team that is just as fleet of foot as his charges .... and the ghosts of the Banana Boys will be cheering in the stands.
Saturday we will see two of South Africa’s three play-off qualifying sides (as things stand) go head to head in Durban. So given that, it should be a real battle, but I doubt it will be ... in fact I think the Stormers will take this one quite easily.
First of all, let me just say that I’m well aware of the fact that the Sharks have won more games than the Stormers this season, I’ll give them that. The Sharks have won eight of their 12 games, while the Stormers have won seven of their 11 games, so I guess you can say Robert du Preez’s men are one up there. I guess. But against who? Against who did the Sharks rack up those wins? Against the lousy Australian teams. I don’t think I have to go into much detail about the Aussie teams, I mean, if you’ve seen one of their games you’d understand why. The Aussies remind me of dishwater.
The Stormers, on the other hand, have faced the toughest opposition this season – New Zealand opposition. And yes, Sharks fans will probably be quick to point out that the Stormers took three beatings on tour in New Zealand, but let me just remind you that the Stormers are the only South African team to have beaten Kiwi opposition – and they did so twice.
And should I point out how superb they were in their victory over the Chiefs at Newlands? Even in their win against the Blues last week? And no amount of New Zealand tour-bashing can take that away from Fleck’s men. The Sharks ...well, they’ve lost to the Reds and the Kings (that result wasn’t as surprising as it would have been a season ago, to be fair), but, come on people, who draws against the Rebels?
The Stormers have been up against the best, so the Sharks will be a mere klippie that the Stormers will effortlessly roll out of their way this weekend. Anyway, before I upset the Sharkies too much by simply reiterating their (poor) results, let me get to the other reason why I know the Stormers will dominate at Kings Park. Flair.
Yep, that’s one area where the Stormers will definitely come out on top. We’ve seen it a lot this season – some great runs, those beautiful offloads, swift and telling inside passes and those effective chip kicks. And they have a lot of players who can effortlessly do all of that, even amidst their never-ending injury crisis.
Then there’s also their set-piece work, which has been strong this season. Oh yes, and if the Stormers do decide to go for points, they have a very reliable boot in SP Marais to take care of that. Missing Curwin Bosch yet, Sharks?