There is no doubt that both teams deserve a crack at a place in the final next week
It will be a clash of contrasts when the Stormers host the Sharks in their Super Rugby semifinal at Newlands on Saturday.
The two coastal sides employ markedly different styles and have taken completely different routes to reach this point, but there is no doubt that both teams deserve a crack at a place in the final next week.
The Stormers' greatest strength this season has been their incredible consistency which has seen them lose just two matches - both away from home.
They have used their watertight defensive system to strangle the opposition into submission, and although this conservative style did not yield any four-try bonus points it did take them to the top of the standings.
The Sharks battled to find any consistency in the first half of the season and had to stage a dramatic charge into the play-offs, but they have shown an ability to score from anywhere on the park and can take the game away from any team on their day.
Since being bolstered by the return of some key players from injury the Durban side have played with a remarkable intensity which has infused their game with confidence, which was in evidence when they swept the defending champion Reds aside in Brisbane last week.
That return trip to Australia highlights another important contrast. The Sharks have had to recover from their travels whilst the Stormers have had the week off to prepare.
This should in theory give the home side a significant advantage, although many teams have struggled to maintain momentum after a break and there is the possibility that they could take some time to warm up which would be fatal against the Sharks who have relied on fast starts to dominate.
The Sharks have the muscle to bash over the gainline and the skills to exploit the space they create out wide, but they face a thorough examination of their abilities with the ball in hand against a Stormers team that thrives on forcing the opposition to play from their own half.
With seven Springboks in their pack the Sharks are formidable opponents at scrum-time, and should look to assert their authority against a Stormers outfit that has been less than convincing in this area in recent weeks.
The Stormers would appear to have the upper hand in the line-outs with their Springbok second row pairing, but the Sharks' line-out has improved drastically since the return of No.8 Ryan Kankowski, so they will give the hosts a good run for their money once the ball is kicked out as well.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has made no secret of the fact that his team will stick to the controlled gameplan that has put them in this position, especially as the Sharks have shown themselves to be lethal when given the opportunity to launch counter-attacks.
"They are not always tries that they construct from a scrum or a line-out, but if you don't look after your possession they will punish you," he said.
After going down to the Crusaders in their home semifinal last year the Stormers are keen to make the most of the opportunity that they have created for themselves, and Coetzee is hopeful that the Newlands faithful will play their role in what is set to be a classic derby.
"This is what we have worked and sacrificed for and the players understand that. There is nothing that can motivate you more than playing in front of your home crowd," he said.
Players to watch:
For the Stormers: Returning lock Eben Etzebeth should make a big impact in the tight exchanges and will look to get in the Sharks' faces along with the hard-tackling Siya Kolisi who has worked his socks off on the flank all season. In the backline captain Jean de Villiers will look to dictate terms whilst out wide Gio Aplon is always a threat when given some space.
For the Sharks: Hooker Bismarck du Plessis is a major threat with and without the ball and he will be ably supported by the bulldozing Willem Alberts who will pack down at lock. Every player in the loose trio has been in impressive form lately while out in the backline flyhalf Frederic Michalak is always exciting and JP Pietersen has been in sublime form.
Head-to-head: There will be vital battles on both sides of the front row as young Stormers loosehead Steven Kitshoff goes up against the experienced Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira looks to dominate Brok Harris. At the back of the scrum makeshift Stormers No.8 Deon Fourie will have to be at his energetic best to outshine Ryan Kankwoski, but the major tussle should be between the immensely physical and skilful young flanks Marcell Coetzee and Siya Kolisi. The mercurial Michalak will want to outfox the rock-steady Peter Grant in the playmaker role and out wide the two Springbok wings Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen will square off.
2012: Sharks won 25-20 in Durban
2012: Stormers won 15-12 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 32-12 in Cape Town
2011: Stormers won 16-6 in Durban
2010: Sharks won 20-14 in Durban
Prediction: On paper the teams seem to cancel each other out, which should make for a tense nailbiter. With so little to choose between the sides the Sharks' demanding travel schedule could be the decisive factor, so we are backing the Stormers to win at home by two points.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Deon Fourie, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Frans Malherbe, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Odwa Ndungane, 22 Riaan Viljoen.
Date: Saturday, July 28
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy with a moderate south-easterly wind. High of 19 low of 9
Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper, Marius Jonker
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
By Michael de Vries