The Sharks passed their proverbial acid test in hammering the Jaguares in Durban, and they will now host South Africa’s other top side, the Stormers, in what will be a defining match for the two sides, writes former Bok hooker James Dalton for SA Rugby Magazine
The Stormers come off the back of a bye and a horrible loss to the Blues at home. The Sharks, conversely, will be high on confidence after bringing the success of their tour to home turf and picking apart the Jaguares.
As I’ve said many times this year, I’m really enjoying the way the Sharks play. They seem be the South African side best implementing the Rassie Erasmus/Springbok style of play – they attack space, stretch defences, and their territory kicking has been brilliant, as has the regain rate of their kicks, and when they kick high it’s effective.
The Stormers, to me, have been a lot more one-dimensional in their approach, relying on scrum, ruck and lineout dominance. When they didn’t find these against the Blues, their defensive system – which everyone had been praising – looked lost for answers and the Blues attacked space with pockets of players, leaving the Stormers looking sluggish.
The Stormers can’t afford to make the same kind of mistakes against a lethal Sharks side. If they are to be competitive, they need to be a lot more tactical. They need to slow the game up, to combat the Sharks’ quick-fire, high-pressure approach, and try to choke them out a bit.
They also need to kick for lineouts, where they do have the advantage over the Sharks, rather than kicking straight down their throat, as the Sharks have a brilliant counter-attack, and the Stormers don’t have the defensive structure built to absorb a counter defence or attack from broken play.
Essentially, the Stormers need to bring the game down to their pace if they are to have a fighting chance against the Sharks. They must also try to make the most of the high penalty count that the Sharks often suffer as, while Damian Willemse has been inconsistent from the tee, it appears that Jean-Luc du Plessis may add some stability there. Where the Sharks did appear vulnerable, too, was in the last 20 minutes against the Jaguares, where they leaked some points and began to look a bit careless and unstructured.
The Stormers will no doubt be cognisant of this, and while the Sharks do have the edge, they need an 80-minute performance to emerge successful, not just a brilliant 60 minutes. It will be an interesting battle, too, of the packs, with the young Sharks pack being questioned constantly but then fronting week after week. The Stormers boast one off the strongest packs in the tournament and will be looking to restore faith after a poor showing against the Blues.
The Stormers will undoubtedly be looking to shake off the Blues loss and bye week, but at the end of the day, I think the Sharks are too high on confidence and too good. At home in the Shark Tank, they’ll edge their conference counterparts.