Stormers will try to stop Sharks at the breakdown
PREVENTING the Sharks from gaining momentum at the breakdown will be the Stormers' biggest challenge in this weekend's Super 15 semifinal at Newlands, said forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot.
The Stormers have lost only twice in 16 matches this season - once against the Sharks in Durban.
They understand the enormity of the challenge they face, even though the Sharks have endured a tough travel schedule.
The Durban team had to fly to Brisbane to beat the Reds in a play-off match last week and returned to South Africa on Sunday. Fatigue could be a factor, but it is not an issue Stormers management will rely on for success.
"The Sharks' pressure comes from a very specific area of the game - at the breakdown and contact point," Proudfoot said.
"Plum [Sharks coach John Plumtree] is a New Zealander and is well-schooled in that aspect.
"You have to be able to stop their big ball-carriers, such as Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis and Marcell Coetzee, and not allow them to gain momentum. Those are the contact points I'm referring to.
"The Sharks also have a great scrum threat and their front row is superb. We saw how effective they could be with their performance against the Bulls a few weeks ago. There is no doubt the breakdown and the set piece will be vital."
The Stormers have risen to the top of the standings thanks to great defence, a game plan and a team spirit that sees them make few mistakes. Their ability to absorb pressure and make good decisions,especially defensively, has been the hallmark of a campaign that has seen them top the overall standings.
"We know the Sharks will put pressure on us but how we handle that will determine the outcome," Proudfoot said.
"If you make a mistake you have to ensure you don't compound it by making two or three more. That requires mental strength, which our side has. We will work hard to prevent them from pressurising us."
"We saw against the Reds that the Sharks are not only an attacking threat but a strong defensive unit as well. They bring their big pack into the game at every opportunity, be it attack or defence, and we simply have to combat them up front."
The Stormers are in the semifinals for the third consecutive year but they've yet to win the title.
This weekend represents their best opportunity to end a 16-year Super rugby drought.
"We've spent some time talking about what we need to do to cross the divide between making the play-offs and winning the title," Proudfoot said.
"We went away last weekend to ensure we were in the best mental, physical and emotional shape for the game.
"We did a lot of team-building exercises and emphasised the responsibilities of the squad and individuals. We believe we're in the right space to cross that divide."