Stormers coach Allister Coetzee was reminded how important a physical back-row will be in Saturday’s Super Rugby semifinal, so he will be anxiously awaiting further assessments on the condition of Duane Vermeulen before finalising his team for the Newlands showdown with the Sharks.
He would never say so publicly as it would only motivate the Sharks further, but judging from what Coetzee said last week – that overseas teams take his men out of their comfort zone more than local sides do – he should have been happy with the results of the weekend’s play-off matches.
The Sharks showed outstanding form in beating the Reds in Brisbane, the shock result of the weekend even though always assumed this would be the closer of the two matches, and they are certainly capable of coming to Newlands and beating the Stormers. But the Sharks have lost their last two matches at the venue, and they don’t have the wood over the Stormers to the same extent that the Crusaders appear to.
The Sharks also had to fly to Brisbane to win, whereas the Crusaders never had to travel, so the Sharks will arrive in Cape Town having done two flights across the Indian Ocean in the space of not much more than a week, as opposed to the one that the Crusaders would have had to do. The Stormers should also have noted that the Sharks looked a little tired in the second half in Brisbane, so they will rate their chances if they can do what they did against the Bulls last month by just ensuring they are still in the game going into the last 20 minutes.
But Coetzee and his men do have huge respect for the Sharks, and as he put it, the difference between playing the Crusaders and the Sharks is just that one team is loaded with All Blacks and the other is loaded with Springboks.
“We are playing in a semifinal and you always know that in order to get to a final you have to play against a good team to get there,” said Coetzee.
Indeed, and he appears quietly confident that the Stormers will be better prepared than last year, where they were perhaps a bit complacent going into the match against the Crusaders and did not respond well to the pressure of the big occasion. After getting a three day break following the last league match, the Stormers have been back in training since Thursday, the last few days being spent in Hermanus, and will be gradually ratcheting up the intensity during the build-up week.
Ironically, last year the loss of Vermeulen to a knee injury that forced him out of the rest of the season was the big talking point during the build-up to the semifinal, while this year the talk is about his possible return from an injury that has seen him miss out since the Stormers returned from tour at the end of April.
Vermeulen participated in a training session on Thursday and Coetzee appears positive about his chances of playing, although he is not prepared to announce any decision either way as yet.
“The assessments have been very good and Duane got through our practices okay, but at this stage you cannot say yes or no,” said Coetzee.
“We have to keep monitoring him and seeing how he progresses on Monday and Tuesday. At least we have until Wednesday, or even later than that, to make a call.”
Coetzee has already said that if Vermeulen is fit he will start with him, something that he is probably even more determined to do now that he has seen the Sharks beat the Reds.
“They were very physical at the breakdowns and they forced the Reds to turn over a lot of balls. The Reds dominated the second half and the Sharks were forced to make almost 200 tackles in the game. But every time the Reds threatened the Sharks were able to outmuscle them and turn them over and the Reds slipped up too many times by making mistakes.”
It looks like any chance of Schalk Burger returning to the mix has been ruled out but the good news is that Eben Etzebeth will definitely play, while Peter Grant, Gio Aplon and Rynhardt Elstadt have been cleared of the minor injuries that prevented them from taking a full part in training last week.