With much of the talk in this build-up week focusing on the fatigue that many “experts” feel must surely scupper the Sharks in Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final, I wonder whether we shouldn’t at least consider the other side of the coin. Could the fact that they are playing well – and clicking – count in the Sharks’ favour, despite the toll that those extra minutes on the field (and in the sky) must surely be taking on their bodies?
Assuming that the Stormers return Duane Vermeulen and Eben Etzebeth to their pack for this game, they’ll have two players in their starting line up who have played no rugby at all in at least a month (or in Vermeulen’s case, about three). Add that to the fact that the Stormers didn’t play at all last weekend and were far from impressive in any of their three games before the knock-out rounds anyway and a picture starts to emerge; one of a team that is struggling for rhythm and synergy, without the benefit of any recent game time to actually put those aspects right.
Perhaps I’m clutching at straws here, but the Stormers have tended to be a little bit like the proverbial Ferrari stuck in garage this year and coach Alister Coetzee may just find himself desperately fumbling for the keys whilst the fully-loaded Hummer that is the Sharks is already approaching full throttle. Noises coming from the Stormers camp this week suggest that they know that a slow start in this game will be nigh impossible to recover from – the question, though, is whether each member of the team knows – really knows – what they need to do in the opening half hour at Newlands, and how to do it. If they have that secret sauce – one to rival the opening half display we saw from the Sharks in Brisbane – then they’ve certainly kept it under wraps thus far in 2012 and the real unknown here is whether they will be able to muster up the required performance pretty much from a standing start.
We know the Sharks will hit the ground running with the same momentum that’s been carrying them through their “extended finals series” that began with the Bulls game. The Stormers, in the same period, were idling and at the risk of overworking this stupid analogy any further, will need to move through their gears pretty quickly to get the fast start they require.
The elephant in the room, though, from a Sharks point of view, is this: how much longer can the Sharks really be expected to play with this level of intensity? Will the effect of a massive defensive effort in the second half last week, coupled with a whole bunch of flying and jet lag, mean that the Stormers simply have to pitch up to win? I guess we’ll know after the opening 20 minutes at Newlands.Tweet