United Rugby Championship: Inconsistent Sharks face a daunting task against high-riding Stormers

David Skippers
Stormers v Sharks feature image 2023.jpg

The Sharks have a mountain to climb when they go up against an in-form Stormers outfit in their United Rugby Championship (URC) encounter in Cape Town on Saturday.

By contrast, the Stormers will be determined to hammer home their dominance amongst the South African teams in the competition and a victory for the defending champions will push them closer to winning their country’s shield for the second successive year.

Stormers full of confidence

John Dobson‘s troops have shown once again that they are the best South African team in the URC and will head into this fixture in a confident mood as they have struck form at the right time, with the play-offs fast approaching.

They head into Saturday’s clash with an outstanding home record as they have won 19 games in a row in their backyard in all competitions, with their last defeat registered at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town against the Lions way back in December 2021.

Of those, 17 have been in the URC – 11 during the 2021/22 season and six in the 2022/23 campaign – and two in the Champions Cup against London Irish and Clermont Auvergne.

Apart from that, the Cape Town-based side have also done well in the URC’s South African derbies since the competition’s inception in 2021. Since then, that home loss to the Lions was their solitary defeat in the tournament to South African opposition, with a draw in Durban against the Sharks last season the only other blot on their copybook.

In fact, they will have extra motivation to beat the Sharks on Saturday as a positive result will complete a full house of victories at home and away against all their rivals from their country – including the Bulls and Lions – for the season.

Dobson and the rest of his coaching staff of Rito Hlungwani (forwards), Dawie Snyman (backline), Norman Laker (defence) and Labeeb Levy (skills coach and performance analyst) deserve plenty of credit for the Stormers‘ current success. Under their guidance, the men from the Cape have developed a style of play which combines brilliant attacking flair with a miserly defence and that balanced approach is the envy of many other teams in the tournament.

Meanwhile, a lack of consistency has been the biggest hindrance to the Sharks’ campaign. The Durban-based outfit made a slow start to the tournament as narrow victories against Zebre and the Dragons – who are currently occupying the bottom two positions on the table – were followed by a heavy defeat to Leinster but they bounced back with a fine win over Glasgow Warriors.

They then lost to the Bulls but a humiliating 35-0 defeat at home to Cardiff had disastrous consequences for head coach Sean Everitt, as he promptly resigned from his position, with director of rugby Neil Powell taking over the coaching duties until the end of the season.

Initially, there were signs of improvement as they then won their next three URC games before losing to Connacht but soon returned to winning ways at Edinburgh, while they also advanced to the Champions Cup’s round of 16 where they are set to host Munster next month.

However, what has become abundantly clear over the past six weeks is the difference in squad depth between these sides. Both teams are currently without several of their first choice players, who are on a compulsory break from franchise rugby while attending a Springbok training camp.

In the build-up to the corresponding fixture in Durban, Powell was confident his team would cope without their Boks.

Stormers clinched comfortable win in Durban

He was in for a rude awakening as the Stormers dominated that encounter and cruised to a 46-19 victory with the visitors’ fly-half Manie Libbok delivering a dominant performance.

With the home side brimming with confidence in the build-up to Saturday’s showdown on their home turf, don’t be surprised if they clinch a similar result again.

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