Can Sharks pack unleash lethal backs to spoil Stormers’ New Year’s party?

Eben Etzebeth’s abrasive ball-carrying and defending will be vital to the Sharks’ cause against the Stormers on Saturday night. Photo: BackpagePix

Eben Etzebeth’s abrasive ball-carrying and defending will be vital to the Sharks’ cause against the Stormers on Saturday night. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Dec 30, 2023


The Sharks have identified scrummaging, breakdown play and the rolling mauls as three key areas where they need to be sharp to halt the physicality of the Stormers in Saturday night’s United Rugby Championship showdown.

The Durban side will be looking to change a bad run of form in the competition and go against the odds to beat the home side at the Cape Town Stadium (7pm kick-off).

Sharks coach John Plumtree could keep selection continuity with a few changes for the clash, and he will be hopeful that this side can turn their fortunes around after a tough start to their season.

They currently occupy second-last place on the overall log, with only one win from their seven games so far.

It’s a tough ask to bag a win in Cape Town against the former URC champions, especially with the Stormers being unbeaten against South African sides since December 2021 at their home ground.

But Plumtree and his Sharks will rock up to the Mother City with several World Cup-winning Springboks to try and change the status quo.

Lock Eben Etzebeth and prop Ox Nche will have to be the drivers of the Durban side’s pack of forwards, while centre and captain Lukhanyo Am, along with scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse and wing Makazole Mapimpi, will be the ones to look out for on attack.

The Sharks made only three changes to their starting line-up yesterday, with Hendrikse swopping jerseys with fellow World Cup-winning scrumhalf Grant Williams.

Lock Emile van Heerden is back to replace Le Roux Roets, and Lappies Labuschagne comes in at flank as Phepsi Buthelezi shifts to No 8 in place of Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

“A lot will come down to the intensity of the collision, the scrum, the maul and breakdown stuff. The Stormers are a really physical team, and they pride themselves on that stuff,” said Plumtree.

That’s why Bok enforcer Etzebeth will be so important at the rucks, while his abrasive ball-carrying and defending will be vital to the visitors’ cause too.

Nche won’t be up against fellow Bok Frans Malherbe, but his contest with Neethling Fouché will be just as mouth-watering.

The Stormers have improved in terms of their lineouts and scrums in recent weeks, and if the Sharks pass this test up front, it can bode well for their backline.

All but wing Werner Kok among the starting backs are Springboks, and they will be out to show that their skills can top those of the Capetonians.

Should the forwards provide some quality front-foot ball possession to Hendrikse and players like fullback Aphelele Fassi, Am and Mapimpi, they could turn on the fireworks to upstage the Stormers.

According to Plumtree, it is all about finding the right balance in their plan.

“We have identified some things we need to change around our game. We have worked hard on that this week. Giving the Stormers the ball is always dangerous, because they have all this talent with the ball in hand,” the former All Black forwards coach said.

“Some parts (of their game) we need to nail – that is our scrum and lineouts, and the crucial parts where we are about to build or relieve pressure.

“We just let ourselves down in some of those moments. That is what probably plagued us.

“Hopefully the (two-week) break will have done the world of good.”

Sharks Team

15 Aphelele Fassi 14 Werner Kok 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain) 12 Francois Venter 11 Makazole Mapimpi 10 Curwin Bosch 9 Jaden Hendrikse 8 Phepsi Buthelezi 7 Lappies Labuschagne 6. James Venter 5 Emile van Heerden 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Coenie Oosthuizen 2 Kerron van Vuuren 1 Ox Nche.

Bench: 16 Dan Jooste 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu 18 Joel Hintz 19 Corné Rahl 20 George Cronjé 21 Grant Williams 22 Boeta Chamberlain 23 Ethan Hooker.


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