The Force have the best forward pack in the Australian Conference. There, I said it!
It’s definitely the form forward unit going around: hard-arsed and effective.
However, they’ll be earning their money this Saturday when they take on the Stormers in Cape Town. The other boys in blue are the only unbeaten team in the competition, with a game plan that relies on impregnable defence and the reliable boot of Peter Grant to achieve grinding results.
Confronting their defence is like banging your head against a brick wall. It’s rock solid and bound to cause you some pain. Maybe it’s the South African version of rope-a-dope?
Flanker Francois Louw rules the roost at the breakdown and has been in outstanding form. Likewise, how do you get past Andries Bekker at the lineout? Just ask Victor and co., as the pressure comes on jumpers and throwers alike. The Stormers really have continued where they left off last year and will be a tough nut to crack for a mid-ranked team like the Force.
The Force are starting to get some consistency in their play and it’s reflected in the team picked for this week’s match – it’s the same as last week’s. Against the Lions they were clinical in their execution; although they lost their way for a period mid-game, they had the maturity to put the hammer down and close it out.
It’s Sharpie’s 137th game which makes him the most-capped Super Rugby player in history. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving player. Long may he reign over us.
Some people are claiming JO’C has been a revelation at No. 10. Not to me he hasn’t, as he’s always had the skill set to play five-eighth and that’s where he featured in schoolboy rugby. I’ve been pushing this barrow for some time now and feel totally vindicated – so there! (It’ll be interesting to see where Willie Ripia is going to fit in when he’s finally declared fit. Maybe on the bench?)
The Force have been defensively strong as well in the early stages of this competition, but offensively haven’t had the firepower of some other franchises. Springboks Jean de Villiers and Jacques Fourie make up one formidable unit for the Stormers on both counts.
Coach Richard Graham said: “It’s definitely good to be able to maintain consistency in selection; however, having said that the important thing is that the boys continue to earn their place. We always want to create an environment that is competitive, and that has been the case at training again this week.”
While defence will no doubt be a focus for both sides, Graham doesn’t believe the match will be a dour affair. “I think it’s fair to say that each team will really have to earn their points. However, I don’t think it’ll stop either side from playing rugby.”
For the Stormers, lock forward De Kock Steenkamp has replaced injured workhorse Rynardt Elstadt as the only change in the starting XV. “De Kock will give us a good line-out option and he’s a hard worker in the tight,” said coach Allister Coetzee. “He’s been impressive at maul time and when it comes to cleaning out at rucks or defending he’s very reliable.”
Coetzee has called up utility back Lionel Cronje in place of regular substitute Gary van Aswegen. Hooker Siyabonga Ntubeni has also been promoted to the bench where he takes the place of Ethienne Reyneke.
“We will be up against an Aussie team for the first time this season and we know they can be smart,” said Coetzee. “There will be no chance for us to relax or be over-confident. They are not an easy team to play against, and we will have our work cut out to contain them.”
Stormers regular captain Schalk Burger is still out recovering from a knee strain.
I hope the Force don’t think one win and perhaps a losing bonus point will suffice on this tour. They’ve a mountain to climb to move up the table this weekend but I think they’re in for some stormy weather. As Elizabeth Taylor once said: “It’s not the having, it’s the getting.”
Lance says: “Although they don’t score many tries, there are Stormer threats right across the park. Stormers by 9.”
1. Pek Cowan 2. Ben Whittaker 3. Tim Fairbrother 4. Sam Wykes 5. Nathan Sharpe 6. Richard Brown 7. Matt Hodgson 8. Ben McCalman 9. Brett Sheehan 10. James O’Connor 11. David Smith 12. Gene Fairbanks 13. Nick Cummins 14. Alfi Mafi 15. Cameron Shepherd
Reserves: 16. Nathan Charles 17. Keiran Longbottom 18. Tom Hockings 19. Tevita Matuesela 20. James Stannard 21. Matt Brandon 22. Pat Dellit
1. Wicus Blaauw 2. Deon Fourie 3. Brok Harris 4. De Kock Steenkamp 5. Andries Bekker 6. Pieter Louw 7. Francois Louw 8. Duane Vermeulen 9. Dewaldt Duvenhage 10. Peter Grant 11. Bryan Habana 12. Jean de Villiers 13. Jaque Fourie 14. Danie Poolman 15. Gio Aplon
Reserves: 16. Siyabonga Ntubeni 17. CJ Van de Lind, 18. Anton van Zyl 19. Nick Koster 20. Ricky Januarie 21. Lionel Cronje 22. Juan de Jongh
Date: Saturday, 26 March
Venue : Cape Town
Kick Off local: 15:00
Kick Off GMT: 13:00
Referee: Pro Legoete
Assistant Ref 1: Mark Lawrence
Assistant Ref 2: Christie DuPreez
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee