Sharks to slay Stormers

MARK KEOHANE, in his Cape Argus column, says the Stormers’ winning run will end at Kings Park.

I’ve backed the Stormers to win every time this season because I have believed them to be better than the sides they have played so far in the tournament. On Saturday I believe they will lose against the Sharks in Durban.

Why?

I think the Sharks are collectively the better side and I also think the desperation of the Sharks to get a win after two successive defeats will be telling. There’s also the not so small mental scarring of last year’s Currie Cup final when so many of this Stormers squad took a beating playing for Western Province against the Sharks.

You will probably argue that the Stormers also had scars from the Super Rugby final defeat against the Bulls in 2010, yet a couple of weeks ago pulverized the same Bulls in Pretoria. The counter to that is the Sharks are a team still on the rise and the Bulls have long risen and are now in free fall.

The Sharks must be favourites to win at home. When two of the best teams clash in the league stages the smart money tends to follow the home team.

If this match was played in Cape Town I’d favour the Stormers because of the home comforts, but the Stormers will find Durban even more demanding than Pretoria because the Sharks form is also more of a menace than the Bulls.

Springbok captain John Smit will be named World Cup skipper regardless of his form or how much game time he gets at hooker for the Sharks. Bok coach Peter de Villiers gave him that guarantee a year ago, so to suggest Smit is playing for his international future against the Stormers would be an ill-informed view.

Smit is also more effective to the team dynamic if he captains the side and starts, which explains coach John Plumtree’s selection and leadership decisions.

I’d be very surprised if Plumtree gives Smit another start at prop against the Stormers.  Don’t ever forget the revered 2007 World Cup-winning Bok captain is a hooker, who can also play prop, and if used in that capacity he can add value to any match.

The Sharks should win, whether Smit or Bismarck du Plessis start at hooker. I just think life would be a bit more comfortable for the Sharks if Du Plessis – the form hooker in the competition – is let loose on the opposition from the opening minute.

Smit’s leadership is a factor, although Stefan Terblanche has deputised without fear and very little failure.

The individual match-up is Schalk Burger and Willem Alberts. Burger broke a rib the last time he tried to stop Alberts (2010 Currie Cup final), and that first collision on Saturday can’t come soon enough for those who still consider rugby a contact sport.

Alberts has been powerful in the tournament, more so in the first 60 of each match than the last quarter, but with Burger only expected to play 60 minutes after missing a month with injury, it will be an hour of crash and bash.

Physicality is always a factor when these two teams play, but so is taking the points on offer. Burger erred in the final of the Currie Cup by turning down five kickable penalties and you can take it as one of Saturday’s givens that Peter Grant will be asked to kick at goal every time if the penalty is awarded within 50m of the Sharks posts.

The Stormers have been the best defensive unit in the competition for the past two seasons, but the Sharks are equally capable of keeping the opposition tryless.

I don’t agree with criticism of the Sharks defensive pattern being vulnerable or of soft individual defence in the defeat against the Crusaders. Sometimes you have to give credit to the skills set of the attacking players and there is not a 10/12 combination as lethal in this competition as Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams.

Peter Grant and Jean de Villiers are very good, but they don’t naturally offload in the tackle and the Sharks defence will benefit against a team that plays with more structure than they encountered in London a week ago.

The Stormers can afford a first defeat and the Sharks can’t accommodate a third straight stumble. This is one of those matches where desperation will defeat desire.

– Listen to Keohane talk Stormers rugby on GoodHope FM with Cape Town-based former Welsh international Scott Gibbs every Saturday morning between 8-9am.