Talismanic skipper Schalk Burger has to fire if the Stormers are to beat the Chiefs in the quarter-final at Newlands on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Does Burger have anything left to prove at the highest level? Absolutely not.
Burger won the World Rugby Player of the Year award in his breakout season. Between 2004 and 2015, he amassed 86 caps for the Springboks, and helped the national side win two Tri-Nations titles as well as the 2007 World Cup.
At Super Rugby and provincial levels, however, Burger has been less successful. The iconic flanker has never won the Currie Cup with Western Province. He's been on the losing side in the Super Rugby playoffs more often than not during his 13-year stint with the Stormers.
The match at Newlands on Saturday represents an opportunity for the Stormers and their long-serving captain. The team will be aiming for their first playoff win since 2010. Burger will be looking to extend his run with the Cape side and claim that elusive title before he leaves South African rugby, possibly for good. At the end of the Stormers' campaign, Burger will take up a contract with Saracens in England.
The Chiefs believe they are well placed to beat the Stormers this weekend. They've travelled extensively over the past week, and are coming off a bad loss to the Highlanders. And yet, some may go as far to say they are favourites to beat the Stormers at Newlands in a playoff. And they have good reason to do so.
Since 2010, the Stormers have lost four out of five playoff matches. That record includes three losses at Newlands. On each of those three occasions, the Stormers failed to display the necessary physicality and composure needed to win big matches.
Burger has to lead the physical charge against the Chiefs this Saturday. In years gone past, Burger has been viewed as the quintessential hard man, the player capable of making those game-shaping hits and carries. If Burger rolls back the years and channels his former self, the Stormers' chances of winning will increase significantly.
However, if Burger focuses on that linking roll, if he continues to operate behind the gainline, then the Stormers can kiss their title prospects goodbye.
The Chiefs want the Stormers to play an expansive brand of rugby this Saturday. They want the likes of Burger to play away from their strengths.
The Stormers must take a lesson from the Chiefs' recent loss in Dunedin. They must look to replicate the performance of the Highlanders, a side that uses its defence and kicking game to great effect.
There will be a lot of pressure on Stormers halfbacks Nic Groom and Rob du Preez to make the right decisions. The Stormers need to win the territorial battle. If they continue to use the grubber kick as an attacking weapon, they must ensure that they don't hand the dangerous Chiefs back three the opportunity to counter-attack.
What will help Groom and Du Preez's cause is a dominant showing by the Stormers pack. The Cape side has the players to win the lineouts and collisions. The Stormers should endeavour to slow the tempo of the game so that the majority of the contest takes place in the trenches.
If Burger and the Stormers fail to win the gainline battle, if they fail to control the pace of the game, they will come short. The Chiefs possess a host of players who thrive in a looser contest. If the visitors win the collisions and force turnovers, the likes of Aaron Cruden, Damian McKenzie and James Lowe could prove unstoppable on the counter-attack.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Stormers 9, Chiefs 9
In Cape Town: Stormers 5, Chiefs 3
STATS AND FACTS
– The Chiefs have won seven of their last 11 games against the Stormers, including wins in each of their last two.
– The Stormers have won only one of their seven playoff games including none of the last four.
– The Stormers have managed to score 20-plus points in a playoff match only once.
– The Chiefs have won only three of their last six games, though they've won nine and drawn two of their last 13 games against South African opposition.
– The Stormers have relied on penalty kicks more than any other team, slotting 2.6 per game.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres||Most tackles|
|Stormers||Jean-Luc du Plessis (128)||Leolin Zas (8)||Leolin Zas (699)||Pieter-Steph du Toit (126)|
|Chiefs||Damian McKenzie (165)||Damian McKenzie, Seta Tamanivalu (9)||Damian McKenzie (1,190)||Sam Cane (174)|
Stormers – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe (c), 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Nizaam Carr, 22 Louis Schreuder, 23 Brandon Thomson.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sam McNicol, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Tevita Koloamatangi, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Toni Pulu, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix