Sharks have 'belief' as Stormers chase SA clean sweep
SPOTLIGHT: In theory, South Africa’s United Rugby Championship teams root for each other to qualify for the play-offs, but national interests will be parked when the Sharks pull into Cape Town to battle the Stormers on Saturday.
With four league rounds left to play in the URC, the race to secure a home play-off, as well as national shield honours, is gaining momentum.
The hosts and defending champions want to consolidate the strength of a league positioning that has them second, behind Ireland’s Leinster, and leading the South African quartet.
The URC South African Shield will come into particular focus on Saturday with the Stormers chasing a clean sweep of SA rivals, having won all five SA match-ups played this season.
The Sharks missed the opportunity to help their Cape cousins when they allowed Ulster to escape Kings Park with a bounty of five points last week, and the Durbanites can expect no favours from the second-placed Stormers whose league lead over the men from Belfast is now just five points.
Sharks scrumhalf Grant Williams, who grew up in the Western Cape, told the media this week he was confident there was enough quality among the visitors to reverse a heavy defeat against the Stormers in Durban a few weeks ago.
“We have the belief to do it,” Williams said.
“I know we will have to be a lot better than last week, and also the last time we played the Stormers, but we know what we need to fix.
“Before the last Stormers game, we had a few players ruled out during the week and we also know what mistakes we made in that match.”
#ICYMI: Sharks scrumhalf Grant Williams says “patience” has played a big part in his playing career so far. 👇#URC #Sharks https://t.co/5VpdQMtcGT
— rugby365.com (@rugby365com) March 2, 2023
Defending champions, the Stormers currently have a 13-point lead over the Bulls and could close in on clinching the SA Shield for the second year running with a win in Cape Town.
Having already beaten the Sharks in Durban, and winning both home and away games against the Lions and Bulls respectively, the Stormers need only win on Saturday to achieve the rare feat of scalping all of their SA rivals in a single season.
However, Stormers forwards coach Rito Hlungwani is expecting a tough battle, as the Sharks look to rebound.
“We know how it works, when you misfire you put in a lot of extra work to get things right and in order to bounce back. We’ve all been there,” said Hlungwani.
“We know they will be hurting and feeling down, and that will make them dangerous.
“Teams do go through slumps, and there are reasons for that. One week it might be the scrum, the other week it might be the line-out or your counter-attack that doesn’t work. We’ve all been through it. Hopefully it won’t be this weekend, but I am sure the Sharks will turn the corner soon.
“Regardless of whether they come here hurting or highly motivated, the key thing for us is to have the same mentality we had in Durban and most recently against the Bulls at Loftus. That’s the one thing we have spoken about, and that’s the challenge for us this week.”