CAN the Southern Kings keep living the dream and will the Stormers’ nightmare end?
Those are two of the main subplots to this weekend’s fourth-round Super 15 action, which also sees the Bulls and Cheetahs in action in New Zealand.
The Kings, with 18-year-old wing sensation Sergeal Petersen in the vanguard and a raucous crowd behind them at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, need everything to go in their favour against the Sharks. And that is only to make it something resembling a contest.
The romance of the Kings’ start to the tournament after their opening 22-10 victory over the Western Force is likely to end abruptly against John Plumtree’s grim reapers from Durban.
The Sharks do not do romance; they do pragmatism. The Kings are the fluffy popcorn romcom with teenage leads; the Sharks are the bleak, taught thriller stacked with A-list talent. They are brutally hard, massively effective in all facets of the game, have huge experience and are high on confidence after winning a tough struggle against the Stormers last week.
The Kings punched above their weight against weak Aussie opposition on their debut, but on Saturday they will understand what playing in Super Rugby really means. For all their enthusiasm and grit, it will not be enough against a Sharks team whose only threat is complacency.
After a massive game against the Stormers, Sharks flank Jean Deysel retains his place for the Kings clash, a clear signal that they intend bludgeoning the Kings into submission first. The rapier will come later.
In Cape Town, the Stormers are only two games into a 16-match campaign, but they are already under severe pressure after away losses to the Bulls and Sharks.
A home match could not have come at a better time although they would have preferred not to be facing the defending champion, Chiefs, first up at Newlands.
The teams did not meet last season and the last time they clashed at Newlands was in 2009, when the visitors won 28-14.
The New Zealand side have been in sparkling form already this season after big wins over the Highlanders and Cheetahs. However, they have not yet come up against a side as defensively strong as the Stormers and that could be the key for the home team.
“I can guarantee you we will make more tackles in this game than we have all season,” Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers said. “They do like to keep the ball in hand and don’t kick as much as other teams, so we can expect to have to defend more. But that’s an area of the game where we do well.”
In an unchanged team from the one that lost to the Sharks, flyhalf Elton Jantjies will have another chance to grow into his role at the Stormers while hooker Tiaan Liebenberg’s inclusion on the bench is a positive development.
The Cheetahs face the daunting task of taking on the Highlanders at Rugby Park in Invercargill after suffering a 45-3 hammering by the Chiefs last week.
The Bulls begin their Australasian tour on a tough note with a clash against the in-form Blues in Auckland. Both sides are unbeaten after two matches.
Coach Frans Ludeke has made seven changes to the side that beat the Western Force last week.