Kurt Coleman’s defence and game management will be under scrutiny when the Stormers host the Sharks at Newlands on Saturday.
Earlier this week, Robbie Fleck said it was good to see Coleman playing with such confidence. The comment was made in the wake of Coleman’s game-shaping cameo in Bloemfontein.
Early in the second half, Coleman replaced the injured Robert du Preez. He went on to nail three pressure goal kicks, and guided the Stormers to a scrappy but important 20-10 win over the Cheetahs.
This Saturday, Coleman will start in the injury-enforced absence of Du Preez, who has been ruled out for three months with a serious knee injury. The pressure to excel in front of goal, and to marshal that backline effectively, will be there from the outset.
The Stormers pack has started the season well. They dominated the Bulls forwards at the scrum and lineout in round one.
While their lineout was good in Bloemfontein, their scrum misfired. Perhaps that can be viewed as a positive, as there will be no risk of complacency this week when the Stormers battle the Sharks. The Stormers will want to prove that the fine set-piece performance in round one was no fluke.
More will be expected of their back row. This week, Fleck has opted for a new combination in Nizaam Carr at openside, Siya Kolisi at blindside, and Schalk Burger at No 8.
The Sharks boast two of the finest fetchers in the South African game, and the Du Preez twins have made their physical presence felt in the early rounds. The Stormers will need to be more accurate at the attacking breakdown if they are to hand Coleman and company front-foot ball.
According to the stats, the Sharks have made the most metres in the first two rounds. They may find the Stormers defence harder to breach than that of the Kings and Jaguares. The Kings leaked 43 points in round one, while the Jaguares’ ill-discipline (two yellow cards) limited their impact in round two.
That said, the Stormers defence is not impenetrable. Over the years, the Cape side has proved susceptible to the high-ball tactic. The Sharks, through flyhalf Joe Pietersen and fullback Willie le Roux, should test the Stormers back three early on with a series of garryowens.
The Sharks could look to attack that flyhalf channel. The midfield combination of Juan de Jongh and Johnny Kotze can also expect a heavy workload on defence.
What may help Coleman’s cause, though, is the performance of his pack. If the Stormers forwards subdue their Sharks counterparts, then Coleman will have an easier time of it on defence.
Both teams are undefeated at this stage. Both will be desperate to add a third victory to their respective tallies.
The schedule will only get tougher from hereon in. The Sharks will travel to Loftus next week to tackle the Bulls. The Stormers will host the Brumbies, the form team of the 2016 competition.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Sharks 13, Stormers 12
At Newlands: Stormers 7, Sharks 5
STATS AND FACTS
– The spoils are split at three wins apiece in the six games since the Sharks beat the Stormers 26-19 in the 2012 semi-finals.
– Four of the Stormers’ last five home matches have seen the losing side in the fixture being held to single figures in the opening half.
– The Sharks are aiming for a sixth consecutive win in Super Rugby; the last time they went on a longer run was between 2006 and 2007 when they won a club-record eight straight games.
– The Stormers have missed an average of only eight tackles per game so far this season and enjoy a tackling success of 92%, making them the best tackling team in the competition.
– The Sharks have averaged 550m over the gainline this season, the most of any team and one of only two teams (the other being the Lions) to average more than 500m.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (c), 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe (c), 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Huw Jones.
Sharks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira (c).
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Philip van der Walt, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Garth April, 23 S’bura Sithole
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)