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Wed Apr 23 12:35:35 SAST 2014

Stormers v Sharks too close to call

CRAIG RAY | 27 July, 2012 06:430 Comments
JP Pietersen tackled by Juan de Jongh during the Super Rugby match between The Sharks and DHL Stormers from Mr Price Kings Park on May 26, 2012 in Durban
Image by: Steve Haag / Gallo Images

ALL that is certain about today's Super 15 semifinal between the Stormers and the Sharks at Newlands is that, at its conclusion, a South African team will be in next week's final.

Who will win is almost impossible to predict and Stormers captain Jean de Villiers summed it up best when he said the winner would be the team that was the best for longer during the game.

The Stormers and the Sharks have met twice this season with one victory each.

In both matches the home team won, so by that measure the Stormers have a slight edge as hosts tomorrow.

In addition to home ground advantage, the Stormers boast the best defence in the competition, and 14 wins in 16 regular season games underlines how difficult they are to beat.

But current form hints to an unlikely Sharks victory after they thumped the Bulls, Cheetahs and Reds in the last three weeks.

They are carrying momentum and, despite a difficult travel schedule, they will be buzzing on adrenaline, knowing they have a chance to become the most unlikely winners of the tournament.

When the tournament format was unveiled two years ago, most coaches agreed that the team finishing sixth in the standings had almost zero chance of winning because of the travelling that would be required.

To become eventual champions, the Sharks would have to win three consecutive away play-off games in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

So far they've completed the first part of the job by beating the Reds in Brisbane last week. Part two of their quest looms in the shadow of Table Mountain, and if there is to be a part three, it will be in icy Hamilton or Christchurch.

Even a glance at the play-off records of the two sides fails to separate them adequately.

The Sharks have try-scoring weapons across the park and their pack is arguably the best at getting over the advantage line.

Goal-kicker Freddie Michalak has landed an impressive 31 out of 37 kicks for an 84% success rate, while flanks Marcell Coetzee and Keegan Daniel are the highest-placed forwards in the competition in run-metres-gained statistics.

But the Stormers have a few aces of their own. Peter Grant, perhaps the most underrated player in South Africa, has landed 45 of 48 kicks at goal for a 94% success rate.

No wonder De Villiers described him as the Stormers' player of the year. The Stormers pack are also underrated and with Eben Etzebeth back at lock and Brok Harris bringing his nous to the tighthead position, they should at the very least gain parity.

The only edge the Sharks appear to have is in the back row, where Daniel, Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski have been sublime.

Stormers flanks Siya Kolisi and Rynhardt Elstadt have been outstanding all season, but regular hooker Deon Fourie at No8 remains a potential weak link. He was brilliant against the Rebels and he is a high-quality player.

Semifinal fixtures

Hamilton: Chiefs vs Crusaders (9.35am)

Newlands: Stormers vs Sharks (5.05pm)

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