Neutral view backs Sharks

Lions interim coach Johan Ackermann believes the Sharks will achieve victory over the Stormers in the Super Rugby semi-final at Newlands.

There have been plenty of opinions heading into Saturday’s South African showdown in Cape Town.

Pundits have backed the Stormers because of their impeccable record at Newlands this season (they haven’t lost a home game in 2012), while it’s believed that the Cape franchise’s game plan is suitable for finals rugby. Several Stormers players have also pointed to their experience in these high-pressure games after appearing in the last two tournament semi-finals.

However, Ackermann said the Sharks should be considered favourites as they’re one of the few teams who have the arsenal to defeat home side.

‘The Stormers will be tough to beat at home,’ Ackermann told keo.co.za. ‘Home-ground advantage will be a factor, and their defence and accurate goal-kickers will be essential during the match. Those are the kind of things that have helped them achieve so much success during the league stage, especially in those tight contests.

‘But if there was ever a team who could pick up a win at Newlands on Saturday, it would be the Sharks. They have the game breakers needed to test the Stormers. Current form and momentum are also in their favour. There will be concerns whether the travel fatigue will affect them. But if they can overcome it and their players are managed very well, the Sharks will be a big threat.’

Ackermann has a point.

While the Stormers have an flawless 2012 record at home, they haven’t been convincing. Five of their eight victories at Newlands have been won by six points or less. They have only beaten the Hurricanes (39-26), Blues (27-17) and Lions (27-27) by more comfortable margins. The Sharks will also draw confidence from the last encounter between the two teams, which they won 25-20 in Durban.

Ackermann’s prediction sees the Sharks winning the second semi-final, but added that this will disadvantage South Africa’s challenge for silverware.

‘I think the Sharks will win. They have the momentum and form. But this will make their task even harder, as they’ll have to fly to New Zealand for the final. That would be too much travelling for any team.

‘If the Stormers win, they’ll host the title decider. That would be South Africa’s best bet for winning the Super Rugby trophy.’

By Gareth Duncan