Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says they are prepared for the Sharks to come up with a few tricks when they meet in a do-or-die match at Newlands on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The coastal derby will have the added element of effectively becoming a knockout game, as neither side can afford to lose if they wish to progress to the Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs.
The Stormers are currently in seventh place, one point above the Sharks, who are outside the wildcard spots in ninth place. No matter what goes on in the games between the teams below them, the equation is simple for the Stormers: win and go through to the final eight, lose and fail to make the playoffs for the second season in a row.
Matches between these two sides (including the Western Province Currie Cup side) have always provided something of a surprise, with the heavily favoured team consistently being on the receiving end of an upset, often on their home ground.
During last year’s Currie Cup final, the Sharks were able to stun the favoured WP side in a game that the Durbanites slowed down to a snail’s pace, suiting their physically superior pack of forwards.
When asked about the particular threat the Sharks could posit this weekend, Fleck pointed to their attacking kicking game, singling out fullback Aphelele Fassi and centre Lukhanyo Am.
‘They are a tough side to play against,’ Fleck said. ‘Defensively they are really strong, they are up there with the Crusaders in terms of their defensive style, and they look to get double hits and are quite aggressive in the tackle and they look to stop your momentum.
‘What they have brought, different to previous campaigns, is a bit of width to their game. Certainly, we have seen that in the first 15 minutes in their game against the Jaguares, where they were able to spread the ball around to shift the points of attack.
‘They have a nice little attacking kicking game with Am and Fassi. They have advanced their game in terms of their attacking kicking game with Am in the wide channel and Fassi able to kick off his left and right foot. They have some real threats out wide with Nkosi and Mapimpi.
‘The Sharks will always come up with little tricks. When it comes to the set piece, especially the maul, they have fun little options that they will try against us. We have got to be prepared for that. There will be something coming our way that we haven’t seen before.
‘But if we deal with it effectively and enforce our plan on them, I think they will revert to what they know best, which is a physical game. They certainly were aggressive in the Currie Cup final, and they slowed the game down against the Province boys. That tempo suited them. They wanted to play a physical game and win it up front.’
The Stormers have been able to welcome Damian de Allende back into their starting lineup after he missed last weekend’s win over the Sunwolves. The Springbok centre’s absence from the team was felt in that game, where they struggled to get the required width to their attack.
‘Damian is massive for us. He is a key player,’ Fleck said. ‘I have felt that he has been outstanding this year, especially in key games against the Crusaders and Highlanders. He was missed against the Sunwolves in terms of giving us some direction and a bit of width. That is where he has done really well this year.
‘He has taken control and been that link man between the outside backs and what is happening up front. He gets us that go-forward. His kicking game has come a long way as well. I am not surprised that he has put some guys into space.
‘Defensively he is incredibly strong. With the way the Sharks like to play, attacking the vacuum effectively with [Andre] Esterhuizen. He is going to play a critical role in stopping that.’
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