All South African eyes will be on Cape Town this weekend when the DHL Stormers and The Sharks will battle it out for a place in the Vodacom Super Rugby Final.
It’s the first ever Vodacom Super Rugby knock-out match between these two South African heavy-weights, and looking at the history of these encounters, the DHL Stormers must be considered favourites on Saturday.
Since 1996, the home team has lost only five out of 32 semi-finals – however, this has happened twice to the DHL Stormers (in 1999 against the Highlanders and in 2011 against the Crusaders), as well as twice by the Reds and once by the Waratahs.
And The Sharks is one of only four teams to have won a semi-final away from one – in 1996 against the Reds. The Crusaders have done it twice, the Brumbies once and the Highlanders once.
While history provides not much more than interesting conversational topics when it comes to these kinds of things, recent form is something different. The Sharks were brilliant when they beat the Reds in Brisbane last week, while they also played very well in their last few league matches.
The DHL Stormers had a bye last weekend after they won the South African Conference and finished top of the log, and they successfully won 14 of their 16 league matches, proving their consistency during the season.
In New Zealand, the Chiefs host the most successful side in the history of the competition, the Crusaders, in Hamilton on Friday. This is the 11th consecutive season the Crusaders have made the semi-finals.
The Chiefs have only reached the final once, in 2009 when they lost in Pretoria to the Vodacom Bulls, while the Crusaders have won the trophy seven times from 10 appearances in finals.
DHL Stormers v The Sharks
The DHL Stormers and The Sharks, opponents in the second semi-final of 2012 at DHL Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon, have featured in 10 Vodacom Super Rugby semi-finals between them, but have never clashed at this stage of the season.
And with a very even history in derbies between the two coastal franchises, as well as an even score for the season going into this match, Saturday’s encounter is bound to be massive.
It’s the efficient DHL Stormers against the physical Sharks.
The Sharks will arrive at DHL Newlands confident after their very impressive 30-17 victory over the defending champions, the Reds, in Brisbane last weekend.
The way in which the KwaZulu-Natalians eliminated the team from Queensland in their qualifier was brilliant and the only possible negative from that match can be the travel factor – the Sharks had to fly all the way to Brisbane only to return to South Africa and on to Cape Town for Saturday’s semi-final.
DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee had the following to say about their opponents on Saturday: “They are the in-form side – they have gone across to Australia and beaten the reigning champions, which says a lot about the Sharks.
“They are a team that can play the big matches and they will rock up here with a lot of confidence, but I can assure you that our preparations have gone well.”
This weekend is not only a knock-out, but yet another proper South African derby match, something Coetzee is acutely aware of.
“All derby games are tough and close matches and I suppose this play-off game will also be a close one,” said Coetzee.
“With that big pack of theirs which has a lot of Boks I am sure they will come and try and assert their authority from the word go. But I don't think it is just about the scrum for us, it is about a lot of battles across the field.
“They thrive on go-forward ball. Getting players to run on to the ball is the way they play. I think they have also made a step up in terms of their physicality.
“You could see that they really got stuck into the Reds and they really couldn't handle that. That creates that go-forward and they love playing off that front-foot ball.”
John Plumtree, coach of The Sharks, said his team knows what to expect when they get to Cape Town against the table-topping DHL Stormers.
“They don’t change too much in what they do, but what they do is really efficient,” said Plumtree.
“They work really hard defensively – their defence is a wall that’s hard to break down. Furthermore their lineout is really big, they almost have an unfair advantage with some monsters there, their set-piece is something they rely on, they gain a lot of confidence out of winning a territory game, they don’t mind kicking out because they attack the opposition lineout.
“There are trends about them that are really consistent. They have a real belief in what they do, their leadership is clearly very strong because they get out there and play consistent rugby each week, that’s why they finished top, that’s why they’re in a situation where, if they beat us, they get a home final.
“They also feed off the fact that they have a lot of good players but don’t have as many Boks as some of the other teams. That motivates them as well.”
DHL Stormers wing Bryan Habana can set an interesting record if he scores a try on Saturday. He will then become the top try scorer in the history of Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs.
Habana, who has scored three tries in semi-finals and four in finals, is currently on seven tries in knock-out matches, the same as former Brumbies speedster Joe Roff.
The kicking duel between Peter Grant (DHL Stormers) and Fred Michalak (Sharks) could also be interesting.
Grant has been successful with 45 from 48 attempts at goal this season – a very impressive 94%. Michalak is not far behind, with 31 from 37 (84%).
DHL Stormers: Joe Pietersen, Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage, Deon Fourie, Rynhardt Elstadt, Siya Kolisi, Andries Bekker, Eben Etzebeth, Brock Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Frans Malherbe, Deon Carstens, De Kock Steenkamp, Don Armand, Louis Schreuder, Burton Francis, Gerhard van den Heever.
The Sharks: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Tim Whitehead, Meyer Bosman, Lwazi Mvovo, Frederic Michalak, Charl McLeod; Ryan Kankowski, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel (captain), Anton Bresler, Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira. Replacements: Craig Burden, Wiehahn Herbst, Steven Sykes, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Odwa Ndungane, Riaan Viljoen.
DHL Stormers in Super Rugby playoffs:
Won: 1 (semi-final)
Lost: 4 (3 semi-finals, 1 final)
The Sharks in Super Rugby playoffs:
Won: 4 (3 semi-finals, 1 qualifier)
Lost: 7 (3 finals, 3 semi-finals and 1 qualifier)
DHL Stormers in 2012:
R1: beat Hurricanes 39-26 (Cape Town)
R2: beat Sharks 15-12 (Cape Town)
R4: beat Blues 27-17 (Cape Town)
R5: beat Lions 24-19 (Johannesburg)
R6: beat Bulls 20-17 (Cape Town)
R7: beat Highlanders 21-6 (Dunedin)
R8: lost to Crusaders 24-31 (Christchurch)
R9: beat Reds 23-13 (Brisbane)
R10: beat Force 17-3 (Perth)
R12: beat Cheetahs 16-14 (Cape Town)
R13: beat Waratahs 19-13 (Cape Town)
R14: lost to Sharks 20-25 (Durban)
R15: beat Bulls 19-14 (Pretoria)
R16: beat Lions 27-17 (Cape Town)
R17: beat Cheetahs 13-6 (Bloemfontein)
R18: beat Rebels 26-21 (Cape Town)
The Sharks in 2012:
R1: lost to Vodacom Bulls 13-18 (Pretoria)
R2: lost to DHL Stormers 12-15 (Cape Town)
R3: beat MTN Lions 32-20 (Durban)
R4: beat Reds 27-22 (Durban)
R5: lost to Waratahs 30-34 (Sydney)
R6: beat Brumbies 29-26 (Canberra)
R7: lost to Hurricanes 18-42 (Wellington)
R8: beat Blues 29-23 (Auckland)
R9: lost to Chiefs 12-18 (Durban)
R11: beat Highlanders 28-16 (Durban)
R12: beat Force 53-11 (Durban)
R13: beat Toyota Cheetahs 34-20 (Bloemfontein)
R14: beat DHL Stormers 25-20 (Durban)
R15: lost to MTN Lions 28-38 (Johannesburg)
R17: beat Vodacom Bulls 32-10 (Durban)
R18: beat Toyota Cheetahs 34-15 (Durban)
Qual: beat Reds 30-17 (Brisbane)
DHL Stormers v The Sharks
Date: Saturday, 28 July, 2012
Venue: DHL Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa
SA kick-off time: 17h05
Referee: Steve Walsh (Aus)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper, Marius Jonker (both SA)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman