Duane Vermeulen's physicality and leadership could be the difference when the Stormers host the Sharks at Newlands this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The match in Cape Town promises to be a South African classic. The team that wins the set pieces as welll as the battle at the gainline will emerge with the spoils.
The Sharks certainly have the personnel for such a physical task. That formidable pack has been bolstered further by the return of Willem Alberts. The midfield has been shored up with a Springbok centre pairing. Frans Steyn and JP Pietersen are renowned for their physical approach, and will be expected to hurt the Stormers defence.
But if we've learned anything these past three weeks, it's that reputations count for nothing, and a rugby game is not won on paper. The Stormers outmuscled and outplayed a Bulls team stacked with Boks in round one. A powerful Sharks side was rattled by the Cheetahs at home, and then by a resurgent Bulls team at Loftus two weeks later.
The Sharks are not the only side that's received a timely boost this week. The Stormers recently welcomed back Eben Etzebeth and Schalk Burger. The two abrasive Boks will have key roles to play in the trenches.
While the inclusion of Etzebeth and Burger should lend the collective more grunt, the Cape side will take their physical cues from Vermeulen. The Stormers captain has been in inspirational form over the past three weeks. He has led the way on defence, and been equally determined with ball in hand.
His excellent decision-making has also contributed to the Stormers' current winning streak. Vermeulen has an accurate goal-kicker at his disposal, and hasn't been afraid to use him. Calls for pretty rugby be damned.
Of course, the stats suggest Demetri Catrakilis has been marginally less accurate than the Sharks' Pat Lambie. The Stormers flyhalf will need to outkick his opposite number this Saturday, as it's likely that only one score will separate the two teams at the final whistle.
There will be other individual battles to savour. The Du Plessis brothers will target the Stormers' front row at the scrums. The Sharks have a designated fetcher in Marcell Coetzee, but then Vermeulen is no slouch in the ball-poaching stakes. Damian de Allende will want to make a physical statement against Steyn in midfield. Pieter-Steph du Toit needs to bounce back after being schooled at the lineout by Victor Matfield last week.
It's the type of battle any true rugby fan won't want to miss.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Stormers 11, Sharks 12
In Cape Town: Stormers 6, Sharks 5
STATS AND FACTS
– Pat Lambie has converted 20 of his 24 attempts on goal (Rank 1).
– Demetri Catrakilis has converted 15 of his 19 attempts on goal (Rank 2).
– The Sharks have averaged more points scored (31) and conceded (30) per game than any other side in 2015.
– The Stormers have not won the first four matches of a campaign since 2012.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Stormers||Demetri Catrakilis (42)||Dillyn Leyds (2)||Cheslin Kolbe (194)||Michael Rhodes (29)|
|Sharks||Patrick Lambie (58)||Cobus Reinach, Marcell Coetzee (2)||SP Marais (276)||Marcell Coetzee (36)|
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubenii, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Neil Rautenbach, 17 Alistair Vermaak, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Marco Wentzel, 20 Renaldo Bothma, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 André Esterhuizen, 23 Jack Wilson.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix