While it’s fair to say that it’s the home side who have received more plaudits for the style of rugby played in recent weeks, only a fool would instil them as favourites as the Sharks take on the table-topping Stormers at Kings Park this weekend.
Fact is, that while the Stormers have been forced to endure a number of criticisms of their game – that they don’t score tries, play a boring brand of rugby and so forth – a quick glance at the log to the right of this text shows that despite all this talk, they have racked up more wins than any other outfit in the competition. With only a single loss in eleven starts (that being away to the Crusaders), the simple truth is that whatever the Stormers are doing, it’s clearly working for them.
It’s somewhat ironic, I find, that the team once noted for their beautiful running game (one which far too often saw them come a-cropper against the far more pragmatic Bulls) are now the ones adopting the self-same pragmatic approach, with a forwards coach hailing from the barren North one of the key architects of that strategy. There’s nothing new under the sun, or so they say!
The Sharks, in contrast, have been up and down and it’s a testament to the team’s character and resolve, I guess, that they’ve managed to stay in touch with the likes of the Stormers despite losing 5 times(!) as many games. The Sharks have managed to win well (or rather, score 4 tires) when they have won – and lose narrowly when they haven’t and the result is a staggering imbalance in the number of bonus points accumulated by the two teams; the Sharks have 9, the Stormers just one.
So then, we have the team that (sometimes) likes to score tries against the team that never concedes any (well, 12 tries in 11 starts, which amounts to about the same thing) and the question on everybody’s lips is, of course, which of them will prevail. Those watching the Stormers in recent weeks will be marvelling at the fact that they’re managing to keep up a winning streak that makes the Sharks’ recent (and unprecedented) 3-game run look a little puny by comparison. The Stormers have been hit by the injury curse and are battling week by week to find a fit set of loose forwards, yet somehow, every week, they remain committed, capable and cohesive as ever. In fact, it’s starting to look as though the only thing that’s really keeping them winning is the fact that they’ve forgotten how to lose.
The Sharks will have a trick or two up their sleeve as well, though and while it’s the visitors earning all the praise for their forward play, we need to point out that when these sides met in Cape Town back in week two, the forward contest was very evenly matched, with only a late penalty sealing a narrow win for the hosts. While it’s a given that the Durbanites will need to improve their discipline markedly this week, surely the fact that the Sharks are frankly overflowing with fit forwards at the moment has to work in their favour? Could this game be decided purely in terms of which side has the healthier, deeper squad at this stage of the season? The Sharks, I suspect, will be banking on this and we should probably expect that the presence of at least two, but possibly three, capped Springbok loose forwards on the bench may strike something of a psychological blow against the Stormers, who now list an imported Canadian as their only back rower of international standard.Tweet