A tough one to call between the Stormers and the Sharks at Newlands today .

A tough one to call. That is the general prognosis on the return Super Rugby match between the Stormers and the Sharks at Newlands today .

The problem with this fixture is that both sides have an injury toll edging into double figures and so it is difficult to evaluate just how good each team is, because they are not at full strength.
The key to this match lies with the cerebral and mental rather than the physical. The Stormers will feel that they HAVE to win this match while the Sharks are not as desperate and would certainly like the points but do not have a gun to their heads.

That is the challenge for the Sharks tomorrow … can they match the hunger of the Stormers? The Stormers have lost four of their six matches to date and their last two, which were big games against the Crusaders and Cheetahs and both were lost by the narrowest of margins. They are at home and next week have a bye before heading off on tour. They can afford to throw the kitchen sink at this one and as far as making the top six (and the play-offs) is concerned they are pretty much in the Last Chance Saloon.

Do the Sharks need the win as much? If you look at the overall log the answer is no, but that is not what the coaching staff will be telling the players. The Sharks are top of the SA Conference and third overall, are playing an away match and still have a home match next week (against the Cheetahs) before they go on tour.

They could afford to drop this one, beat the Cheetahs and then see how many points they could harvest in four matches overseas.

Of course, coach John Plumtree sees it very differently. His viewpoint is that the Sharks have two matches in South Africa before they tour and they have to bank as many log points as possible before away matches to the Chiefs, Highlanders, Reds and Force. And with the Cheetahs on a roll and the Stormers desperate, there are no “gimmees” for the Sharks before they fly out a week on Sunday.

Again, it comes down to whether the Sharks can match the mental space that the Stormers will be in. It is hard to predict how well the Stormers will play with 13 players out, including two first choice flyhalves in Elton Jantjies and Peter Grant, but it is certain that they will try and move heaven and earth to get the victory.

This week, Plumtree acknowledged that this is precisely what the game will come down to.

“We have a good team with some good leaders, and so have the Stormers, so it’s about the side that puts it all together on the day, maybe takes their opportunities or defends better, or manages to get their set piece to operate better. It will be all about attitude, the team that has 15 players pulling 100 percent in the right direction.”

The Sharks are yet to put in a complete performance this year. They have been good for 40-minute periods in various games but have not played well in both the first and second halves of any game, apart from the rout of the Rebels at Kings Park. It has been one half or the other.

“I’m happy in some areas that we are building towards that 80-minute performance, and we’re working hard on the rest,” Plumtree said. “We’ve shown bits and pieces on attack but we haven’t shown enough. Defensively we’ve been pretty good at times and our set-piece is operating well. We’re winning close games and only lost one game despite heaps of injury problems. We’re battling away. That’s what I want this team to keep doing. When times are tough it’s all about digging deep and working hard for each other, and that is what is going to be required if we are to have a good chance of beating the Stormers.”

Stormers: Joe Pietersen, Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (captain), Gio Aplon, Gary van Aswegen, Dewaldt Duvenage, Duane Vermeulen, Michael Rhodes, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, De Kock Steenkamp, Frans Malherbe, Deon Fourie, Steven Kitshoff.

Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, Pat Cilliers, Gerbrandt Grobler, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Kurt Coleman, Cheslin Kolbe.

The Sharks: Frans Steyn, Sean Robinson, Paul Jordaan, Meyer Bosman, JP Pietersen, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Keegan Daniel (captain), Ryan Kankowski, Marcell Coetzee, Franco van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jannie du Plessis, Kyle Cooper, Tendai Mtawarira.

Replacements: Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Anton Bresler, Jean Deysel, Charl McLeod, Riaan Viljoen, Odwa Ndungane.

Referee: Craig Joubert

by Mike Greenaway

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