Stormers coach Allister Coetzee says their victory over the Sharks in last year’s Currie Cup Final is irrelevant ahead of Saturday's showdown.
Western Province headed to Kings Park last year as decided underdogs but a cohesive team effort saw them prevail over a star-studded Sharks side in the decider.
The Stormers will return to Durban as underdogs after their defeat to the Bulls and the Sharks’ victory over the Cheetahs last week.
But De Villiers said Saturday’s challenge will be an all together different one on the Super Rugby stage.
“The Sharks will always be a quality side. We said right from the start it’s going to be a tough start for us, playing two away from home and playing three of the best franchises [first up],” Coetzee said.
“The Sharks aren’t the favourites for nothing. They’re playing well, they’re coming off a good win over the Cheetahs, they have a good squad and certain players are already on song.
“[Pat] Lambie was outstanding last weekend and with [Ryan] Kankowski back, there’s a big improvement. They’ve worked on [areas] where I think they lacked in the Final and it will be a completely different Sharks team this weekend.”
Western Province dominated the line-outs in that match but Coetzee, considering the Stormers didn’t have it all their own way in this department against the Bulls, insisted it will be a fresh obstacle to overcome.
“They have probably worked on that and have Ryan Kankowski back, who put us under tremendous pressure in the [2012 Super Rugby] semifinal, which we lost at Newlands. We disappointed ourselves last week in the set-piece, both scrums and line-outs, and I want to see a huge improvement."
The Stormers coach explained that his decision to start Frans Malherbe at tighthead ahead of Pat Cilliers, who wore the No.3 jersey last week and has been cleared of a concussion following a head blow, was in large part due to the former Shark’s versatility.
“Pat makes a big impact when he comes on and the fact that he could move to loosehead makes it easier. It’s going to be tough at scrum time; we’re going to be challenged at set-piece. We noticed how they scrummed against the Cheetahs, they have a strong pack.”
Coetzee stressed that the set-pieces will be crucial and that he’s confident that they have eradicated the problems in these facets of play.
“It’s important that we get our set up and our processes right this weekend at scrum time. Matt [Proudfoot] has worked hard; we’ve looked at Kitsie’s [Steven Kitshoff] positioning and his foot placing. It’s not something we can’t fix and I’m of the opinion that we have fixed it this week.”
Coetzee stuck with Elton Jantjies but he kept his cards close to his chest regarding who will be entrusted with the goal-kicking duties following Jantjies’ uncharacteristic errant kicking off the tee last weekend.
Joe Pietersen, who replaces the injured Jaco Taute at fullback this week, took over the goal-kicking with aplomb when he replaced Taute at the weekend. However, Coetzee said it’s not a foregone conclusion that the No.15 will be given the tee.
“We still need to decide on that. He’s [Jantjies] been kicking the ball and striking the ball well but Joe Pietersen is also an accurate goal-kicker. We’ll make as decision later in the week.”
Coetzee resisted drafting Peter Grant into the run-on side, opting instead to include him on the bench. Commenting on the decision, Coetzee said, “The big thing for Peter was to settle into what we’re doing, get the synergy back and understand how we want to play. It’s great to have Peter back in the team environment and he’s been good to Elton as well.”
Coetzee added that he still hasn’t settled on a first-choice scrumhalf but felt it prudent to have continuity heading into their second successive blockbuster South African derby and thus opted to retain Nic Groom at No.9.
“There’s no pecking order yet. I’m pleased with Nic’s performance. It’s not the perfect game yet but it was the first time playing with Elton and it’s important to build a combination and make sure he gets another opportunity to play with Elton.”
Touching on some of the injured players, Coetzee said centre Juan de Jongh experienced discomfort with his hamstring during training while it was decided not to risk hooker Tiaan Liebenberg.
“Fourty minutes into the training session he [De Jongh] felt it a bit and you don’t want to risk Juan this weekend and push him in prematurely.
“It’s a terrible injury for a backline player to have so we will take an extra week or two to make sure he is 100 percent.
“He’s ticked most of the boxes in terms of the strength of the hamstring, his rehab and his fitness, it’s just he’s not comfortable yet, so hopefully next weekend when we evaluate him again he can take the load.”
On Liebenberg, Coetzee said, “At a push, he could have played this weekend. It’s just a matter of giving Tiaan another week to brush up on conditioning.”