An inspirational physical performance by Schalk Burger will improve the Stormers' chances of victory in Dunedin this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Springbok flanker has put the ordeal of 2013 behind him, and is back to his abrasive best. He proved as much over the course of the 2014 season, and in recent matches for the Stormers. He will play in his 100th Vodacom Super Rugby match this Saturday, and you can bet on him making a big impact.
The Stormers need him to lead the physical charge at the collisions and breakdowns. Their inspirational captain and chief enforcer Duane Vermeulen has been rested for this clash. Burger, along with Siya Kolisi and Nizaam Carr, have to get the better of the Highlanders loose trio.
The Highlanders are a side that perennially punches above their weight. Indeed, if you look through the match 23 for Saturday's game, and compare it to that of the Stomers, it's the Cape franchise that boasts more in terms of international experience.
However, the Stormers would be foolish to underestimate this Highlanders team. They have already knocked over some big sides in 2015. Their forwards are always a threat at the breakdown, and as a unit, they tend to be at their best in the second half of a match.
The Stormers may have won four from five this season, but their second-half performances have been far from convincing. They have only outscored the opposition on two occasions during this period (in 2015), and were particularly poor in their most recent match against the Chiefs.
The Highlanders have a competitive forward pack, and some of the most dangerous backs in the competition. Aaron Smith is the best all-round scrumhalf on the planet, while fullback Ben Smith is capable of penetrating even the best defences. Malaki Fekitoa will test the Stormers' line defence, as will Waisake Naholo.
The Stormers were punished in the match against the Chiefs for their bad kicking. They cannot afford to be inaccurate when kicking on the aforementioned players. The selection of Demetri Catrakilis should help them in this respect.
It should be a close encounter, but the Stormers will be under significant pressure in that last quarter. If they fail to build up a good lead in the first 60 minutes, they will struggle to come away from this game with a win.
Burger and the forwards need to meet the challenge of their counterparts head on. Catrakilis needs to kick the visitors into good field positions. They have to put the Highlanders under pressure at the collisions and with their kick chase.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Highlanders 9, Stormers 8
In New Zealand: Highlanders 4, Stormers 2, Draw 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Highlanders have lost their last six against the Stormers.
– Though they have thrown fewer lineouts than any other side, only the Brumbies (91%) have a better throw success rate than the Highlanders (90.9%).
– Opponents of the Stormers have averaged the second-fewest passes (107.6).
– Opponents of the Highlanders have averaged the fewest kicks from hand (15.8).
– The Highlanders have forced the worst tackling success rate from their opponents (82%).
– The Stormers have forced the worst scrum success rate from their opponents (69%).
– The Stormers have stolen more scrums against the head than any other team.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Highlanders||Lima Sopoaga (38)||Patrick Osborne, Waisake Naholo (2)||Waisake Naholo (353)||Elliot Dixon (56)|
|Stormers||Demetri Catrakilis (59)||Dillyn Leyds (2)||Cheslin Kolbe (310)||Nizaam Carr (35)|
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Pingi Tala'apitanga, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Jason Emery.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.
The Money Man's betting tips (to come)
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images