Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis will lend his team an edge at the set pieces and breakdowns in a season-defining fixture at Newlands, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Sharks have already won the South African conference and are guaranteed a place in the knockout round. They will, at worst, host a qualifying play-off in Durban next week.
And yet, there is reason to dream big, to believe that they will score a massive win at Newlands that will propel them into the semi-finals.
Much will depend on what happens in the earlier game between the Crusaders and Highlanders in Christchurch. What seems likely is that the Sharks will need a big win as well as a four-try bonus point to finish second on the Vodacom Super Rugby log.
It's a big ask, but after what transpired in Christchurch in May, where a 13-man Sharks side held on for a historic win, one is inclined to believe that another miracle is possible. The Sharks can't afford to be reckless, as director of rugby Jake White has stated, but they must believe a pragmatic approach can yield the desired result.
Stormers hooker Deon Fourie will miss the clash because of a hamstring injury. The Cape side won't miss Fourie's wayward lineout feeds nor his substandard scrummaging, but they will lament the absence of his game-shaping ability at the tackle.
The Sharks will also go into this clash sans an out-and-out fetcher in their back row. What they do have is an excellent forager at No 2. Despite Du Plessis's hulking frame, he is a constant threat at the breakdown.
With Fourie watching from the stands this Saturday, Du Plessis should have free reign at the rucks. The Sharks hooker will aim to stifle the Stormers at the breakdown and ultimately stall the Cape side's attack. First prize will be a turnover that may lead to scoring opportunities at the other end of the park. The Stormers defence, like any team's defence, is at its most vulnerable when the opposition is on the counter-attack.
The Sharks should meet the physical challenge of the Stormers at the gainline. Where the visitors will have another edge is at the scrums and lineouts.
Du Plessis is a powerful scrummager, and an important cog in an efficient lineout machine. The Stormers were impressive at the scrum last week, but may struggle when they come up against a Sharks pack stacked with veteran Springboks.
Although they were reluctant to admit it, the Stormers' lineout play against the Bulls was unforgivably poor. They will be targeted in that area once again this Saturday.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Played 22, Sharks 11, Stormers 11.
In Cape Town: Stormers 6, Sharks 4.
DU PLESSIS'S STATS THAT MATTER
14 – The number of turnovers he's made in 2014 (Rank 9)
992 – The number of minutes he's played in 2014 (Rank 64)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Stormers – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger (c), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 S'bura Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ettiene Oosthuizen, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.
Photo: Gallo Images