Johannesburg - Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder reckons that the Sharks are going to Cape Town this weekend with a good chance of knocking over the Stormers in their big Vodacom Super Rugby derby.
Blackadder is in a good position to judge the merits of the respective teams as his men have just completed a two match tour which took in games against the two sides that were backed as the likely South African conference winners at the start of the tournament. The Crusaders shocked the Stormers 19-14 at Newlands on Easter Saturday, but couldn’t last the pace against the Sharks at Kings Park this past weekend, going down 21-17.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone who has seen the Stormers struggle through parts of the early stage of the season that it is in the set-piece that Blackadder feels the Sharks could have a telling edge that may set them on the road to victory.
“I think those two team have different strengths,” said Blackadder after the Kings Park game.
“The Sharks’ set-piece did really well against us. If they have another strong set-piece against the Stormers then they’ll give themselves a good opportunity because they really did well there against us.
“We went out with the aim of putting a lot of pressure on them at set-piece time but we just weren’t able to do that. If they can put pressure on against the Stormers then they’ll do well. And if they can convert that pressure into points, and Pat Lambie kicks as well as he did against us, then they’ll have every chance. The Stormers have a lot of injuries too. That could help.”
Of course the Sharks have injuries too, and their coach John Plumtree is scratching his head trying to figure out how to close up some of the holes that are opening up in his squad because of those injuries that are mounting on a weekly basis.
“We have some big players out at the moment and next week we have a tough one in Cape Town. It’s going to be a case of this week trying to get the players up again and ready for another really big battle,” said Plumtree.
“It doesn’t look like we are getting too many players back at this stage, and it looks like we are continuing to lose players. Jacques Botes looks like he has a suspected broken arm. And Louis Ludik looks set to undergo an operation and he could be out for two to three months. Our injury toll is large, and it doesn’t help.”
With Lwazi Mvovo already sidelined, it wouldn’t have pleased Plumtree either to see Odwa Ndungane come off with a suspected strained hamstring.
“The big thing for me is getting some players back because our squad is starting to look smaller and smaller,” he said.
The good news though is that the Sharks may well be getting Jean Deysel back this week, and that could make a big difference as ball carrying forwards have been key to the Sharks’ success against the Stormers in the past. A Deysel return will off-set the loss of Botes, but Plumtree was also chuffed with the performance of Marcell Coetzee against the Crusaders.
“I thought Marcell was absolutely outstanding tonight, he was all over the place, and Keegan Daniel also played well,” said Plumtree.
Where he should be most chuffed, as Blackadder has said, is in the performance of his tight forwards. Pieter-Steph du Toit has started to come through as a lock at Super Rugby level, and is growing in confidence, but hooker Kyle Cooper has probably been the real revelation. He as the man of the match on Friday night for his strong scrumming performance and accurate lineout work which was coupled with an awesome game as a ball carrier.
On this evidence, the return of Bismarck du Plessis, which is expected to take place on the forthcoming overseas tour, is not as critical as we may have thought.