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Preview: Stormers v Sharks

11th July 2014 08:52

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Bismarck du Plessis lineout throw Sharks v Stormers

Sharks: Destiny in their own hands

The Stormers' recent resurgence could not have come at a worse time for the Sharks, whose hopes of a home semi-final are now hanging by a very thin thread.

Having been hailed as 'title favourites' for most the year, Jake White's team have gone off the boil in a bad way.

After dominating the early part of the season, the Sharks have lost back-to-back games - including one at home to the Stormers before the June Tests - to drop to third in the overall standings.

The Durbanites are still guaranteed a playoff berth and top spot in the SA Conference but may need to secure a bonus-point win at Newlands - depending on the Crusaders' result on home soil against the Highlanders - if they want to bag a semi-final at Kings Park and have next weekend off.

The Sharks currently trail the Crusaders by 8 in the points-difference column. By the time they take the field in Cape Town, the men in black will know exactly what is required to finish second.

Whatever the numbers required, the task won't be easy against a Stormers side that has scored 94 points and conceded only 27 in their last four games.

Indeed, Saturday's protagonists have enjoyed contrasting fortunes this term as the Stormers, having made a woeful start to their campaign, are finally coming good and are pushing the Bulls hard for second place in the SA Conference.

Allister Coetzee's troops have been given a respite from the spate of second-row injuries that plagued the squad in the first half of the season. They are also looking a more settled unit in terms of their new, slightly more adventurous, approach to the game.

While the Stormers have been looking to open up a bit more in attack, the hallmark of their game is still a rock-solid defence.

That's bad news for White's team. Only the Bulls and the lowly Lions have scored fewer tries than the Sharks have this year. White's conservative style, although efficient in squeezing out results, has only produced two try bonus points this season.

It's a situation that is ominously reminiscent of the Stormers' own failed title chases of 2010, 2011 and 2012 when on each occasions they dominated the regular season but were unable to step it up a gear in the final straight.

The Stormers are only playing for pride, but the Sharks should not expect any favours - the Capetonians have made winning derbies at home a habit.

The Stormers' last home defeat against a South African team was in the semi-final of the 2012 season, to the Sharks. That was one of only three home defeats in South African derbies for the Stormers going back 20 matches to the start of the 2009 season.

"The important thing for us is to pitch up like we have the past few weeks - like we did against the Bulls (last week) - and to show that same kind of intensity," said Coetzee.

"Like I said at the start of last week, these last two games are very important for us - but this last one is probably the most important one because that is where you leave your last impressions.

"We definitely would like to end the 2014 season on a high. If we don't get the result it will be a bit of a setback (for us)."

After his Brumbies fell short of the title in Hamilton in last year's final, White knows better than anyone the importance of securing home field advantage for the knock-out games.

The former Bok coach has been criticised for overplaying his stars, but in the only games Bismarck du Plessis has not started, the Sharks have lost. With no out-and-out fetcher in the Sharks back row, the skipper's role is more important than ever this weekend.

There is no room for error now, and White's best available team will start. Having seen Tim Swiel fail to take his chance at fly-half last week, Frans Steyn takes over at the steering wheel once again, while a shuffled midfield sees S'bura Sithole and JP Pietersen swap as the the latter brings his physical presence to the outside centre channel.

"Going into these play-offs you need to get some winning momentum and some cohesion going," said White.

"The message is plain and clear - we need to get on an aeroplane and get a result there - whatever way we do it."

Form: The Sharks have lost their last two games, and three of their last four. The Stormers are on a four-game winning streak including three consecutive victories in South African derbies. The Stormers scored 94 and conceded only 27 points in their last four games.

Previous results:
2014: Stormers won 21-19 in Durban
2013: Stormers won 22-15 in Cape Town
2013: Sharks won 12-6 in Durban
2012(semi): Sharks won 26-19 in Cape Town
2012: Sharks won 25-20 in Durban
2012: Stormers won 15-12 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 32-12 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 16-6 in Durban

Prediction: This is a very tough one to call. The Sharks' desperation to get a positive result will mean they will push until the final whistle but it could also mean that a few too many penalties are coughed up. Stormers by less than five points

The teams:

Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Cheslin Kolbe, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger (c), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Alistair Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Seabelo Senatla.

Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 S'bura Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga

Date: Saturday, July 12
Venue: Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Kick-off: 19:10 local time (18:10 BST, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)

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