Siya Kolisi, on his return home, starts in a Sharks team that is powerful enough to beat the Stormers in their new backyard in the first clash of the Pro14 South African Rainbow Cup writes Oliver Keohane.
Pieter-Steph Du Toit returns to the playing field this weekend to bolster the Stormers back row, Damian Willemse could be a threat from fullback with young talent Kade Wolhuter taking charge at ten off the service of Herschel Jantjies. The front row, with Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe will be a brick wall at scrum time. The Stormers have a good team.
But they won’t beat the Sharks, even at home.
The Sharks are settled, they are stylistically sound and there is a clear identity to their rugby that has been lacking for the men in Cape Town since Covid rocked the rugby world.
Much is said of the Stormers pack, and rightly so. But perhaps the focus is always centred on scrum-time because without that they find themselves flailing. The Stormers of late have been a team that needs to get on the front foot quickly; their forwards have to be dominant at set piece and in contact because without that there is not enough cohesion in their backline to control a close encounter. South Africa and the Stormers are undecided on Damian Willemse’s best position, and while he is always electric in play, he is yet to dominate consistently as a commander at ten or cement himself as a secure fullback. Scarra Ntubeni is no Bongi Mbonambi and that presence at hooker will be missed in the early minutes of the game. The Stormers may be building a good squad going forward but their performances are characterised by inconsistency and uncertainty, especially when confronted physically.
The Sharks are simply more settled, and far more multi-dimensional.
Siya Kolisi has had game time prior to this clash – a luxury not afforded to Pieter-Steph Du Toit who will be meeting him on the flank – and looked sharp under the guidance of Sharks coach Sean Everitt. In the front row, Thomas Du Toit and Ox Nche are two physical presences that won’t easily be bossed by the Stormers’ front-row brutes, and fronting them at scrum time will pose a challenge that the Stormers have constantly mismanaged.
Sharks Captain Lukhanyo Am is arguably one of the best outside centres in the world and has spent the last year playing with Jeremy Ward. Sbu Nkosi is one of South Africa’s best wings and would have started many more tests if it weren’t for Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, while Aphele Fassi compliments the back three as a specialist fullback, full of pace. At flyhalf, Curwin Bosch’s boot has proven to be a game changer time and time again both tactically and from the tee. Most importantly, this core group of players have been playing and performing together consistently for the last year. The same cannot be said of the Stormers.
When I look at the benches of both sides – something that has become as important as the run on XV in an 80-minute game now characterised by a squad of 23 – I see the Sharks posing a much greater threat in the closing quarter, another area which the stormers have seemed unable address.
I don’t think the Stormers will get pumped by a heavy scoreline, but I think they will get clinically undone by a Sharks side that is as strong up front, more settled in the backline and ultimately fitter on the field.