CAPE TOWN – All week the talk has been about the strength of the respective group of forwards set to pack down in the Super Rugby duel at Kings Park tomorrow.
And with good reason.
Both are Springbok-laden with the Stormers beefing up their line-up even further yesterday with the inclusion of Bok enforcer Eben Etzebeth.
In fact, it is only loosehead prop Ali Vermaak on the Stormers side who has not had the honour of wearing the green-and-gold tracksuit yet.
“On paper it looks strong, doesn’t it?” Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said yesterday. “Eben’s presence and the impact he had against the Lions was significant. It brought the team together and obviously he does have a wealth of experience.”
With the Sharks also boasting hard men such as Ruan Botha, Coenie Oosthuizen, Akker van der Merwe and Beast Mtawarira, it is hoped that both teams will be able to provide sufficient clean ball from the set-piece to unleash their flying backs.
The Stormers have certainly shown their hand with the inclusion of Herschel Jantjies at scrumhalf and Dan du Plessis at outside centre that they are looking to up the tempo in Durban.
Jantjies was afforded his first Super Rugby start after veteran halfback Jano Vermaak was ruled out with a long-term knee injury.
A further statement of intent from the Stormers is the retention of Damian Willemse at fullback, despite Dillyn Leyds’ return from injury with the former Bishops star having to be content with a place on the replacements’ bench.
This, of course, sets up a mouth-watering head-to-head clash between Willemse and the Sharks’ find of the season Aphelele Fassi.
The latter, who is barely out of his Dale College socks, has lit up the local Super Rugby scene with a couple of electrifying displays in the Sharks’ first two matches.
Stormers coach Fleck is fully aware of the threat the 20-year-old poses from the back, but prefers to see the value of Willemse and Fassi’s development from a national perspective.
“It’s excellent for SA rugby,” Fleck said of the promising young fullbacks. “I think Fassi is an outstanding young player.
"To be playing Super Rugby at such a young age and actually dominating in both games, he has certainly made his presence felt. He is incredibly quick. He had got a decent kicking game.
"He also looks like a smart footballer. To see him and Damian playing at the back is certainly building some talent in the back division.”
Fleck is also not too concerned with the possible mistakes they both could make, citing it as part of their development.
“I think at this level and at international level is how they minimise their mistakes and make the right decisions,” he said. “But they can only learn that by playing regularly at Super Rugby.
“Both have that X-factor and breach the defensive lines at will, but it really is about their game management going forward if they want to go on to higher honours.”