Tahs to test Stormers’ mettle

The Waratahs boast a well-balanced 23 and will test the Stormers' resolve in the final stages of the match at Newlands on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Stormers could not have asked for a better draw in 2016. The new format sees the South African teams in Africa 1 (namely the Bulls, Cheetahs and Stormers) playing five Australian teams and zero New Zealand sides over the course of the conference stage.

What's more, fortune has smiled on the Cape franchise with regard to the scheduling of their matches against Australian opposition. The Stormers play three of those five games at Newlands. Two of the three matches in Cape Town feature the Australian franchises that qualified for the 2015 Super Rugby playoffs (the Brumbies and Waratahs). The Stormers will face the Force and Rebels, traditionally weaker teams that don't boast as much depth, when they tour Australia in July.

Robbie Fleck's side has taken advantage of the draw to some extent. They've beaten the Brumbies and the Reds by convincing margins. They will be aiming to continue that good record against Australian sides when they host the Waratahs this Saturday.

The Waratahs have been in steady decline since they won the Super Rugby tournament in 2014. They were beaten by the Highlanders in the 2015 semi-final staged in Sydney. This season, they have only managed to win three of their seven matches.

What may encourage the Waratahs is their two-from-three record on the road. They may feel that a win at Newlands is possible.

Coach Daryl Gibson has selected a team stacked with Wallabies. There's a good blend of grunt and guile in the starting lineup. The bench is loaded with talent both new and established.

The Waratahs should provide a stern examination of the Stormers' abilities. Tatafu Polota-Nau and Wycliff Palu will lift the level of physicality when they are introduced in the second half. David Horwitz will add some impetus to the Waratahs attack against a tiring Stormers defence.

Michael Hooper is under pressure to produce a quality performance, as is the Waratahs pack as a collective. If the visitors manage to win the collisions and breakdowns, No 13 Israel Folau will be a handful in the wider channels.

The Stormers must start well this Saturday. They need to make an early physical statement against a much vaunted Waratahs pack. They have to go into half-time with a convincing lead.

It will be interesting to see how the Stormers respond if they trail at the break, or if the visitors are within a score of the hosts as the match approaches the fourth quarter. Traditionally, the Stormers are not a side that enjoys chasing the game.

The Stormers have won six matches in 2016. On all six occasions, they have held the lead at the 60-minute mark.

Significantly, in the two matches they have lost, the Stormers have been level (10-10 with the Sharks) or behind (22-16 against the Lions) as the game progressed to the fourth quarter.

The Waratahs will look to take an early lead, and take the game as deep as possible. The team that handles the pressure best in the final quarter will win the game.

Overall: Stormers 10, Waratahs 8, Draw 1
In Cape Town: Stormers 6, Waratahs 4, Draw 1

– The Stormers have won four of their last six matches against the Waratahs, including a 32-18 victory in their last encounter.
– Only one of the Waratahs’ last five matches against South African opposition has been decided by a points difference of fewer than two converted tries.
– The Stormers have won 16 and drawn one of their last 21 matches on home soil against Australian opposition in Super Rugby.
– The Stormers have the best opening-quarter points differential, scoring 45 points more than they’ve conceded in the opening 20 minutes of games so far this season.
– Kurtley Beale has made 2.2 offloads per game so far this season, the second most of any player in the competition behind SP Marais (3.7).
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Stormers Kurt Coleman (38) Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Leolin Zas (3) Cheslin Kolbe (472) Nizaam Carr (76)
Waratahs Bernard Foley (41) Israel Folau (5) Israel Folau (578) Michael Hooper (86)

Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Frans Malherbe (c), 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Huw Jones.

Waratahs – 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Will Skelton, 4 David Dennis, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Paddy Ryan.
Subs: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Matt Carraro.

Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

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Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

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