Preview: Stormers v Sharks
The Stormers' play-off hopes hang in the balance as they welcome an in-form Sharks outfit to Newlands on Saturday.
Nine points behind the SA conference leaders and six points short of that all-important sixth spot, synonymous with qualification for the knock-out games, the Stormers no longer have any margin for error.
"We won't make any excuses, but now every week is a must-win for us," said Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers earlier this week, and he couldn't have summed the situation up better.
It's a far cry from last year's campaign when the Capetonians' near impenetrable defence took them to the top of the table before that fateful semi-final against the Sharks.
Since then calls for a more expansive style have seen Allister Coetzee's side try open up a bit, with limited success. Victory over the Chiefs has been the highlight in a campaign that has featured four losses in six starts. And they're yet to go on tour.
But all is not lost. De Villiers insists they're "not play playing bad rugby... just making crucial errors and we let it slip last week.”
The key to the equation is balance and the addition of Elton Jantjies - with his flamboyant style brought from the Lions - has not worked out as hoped. Cynics might suggest that the fly-half's injury is a blessing in disguise and Gary van Aswegen, a long-time squad member, will be bring more stability.
The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.
Recent results against Saturday's visitors won't offer much encouragement for Stormers. Although the team from the Atlantic side of the South African coast lead the head-to-head stakes with 10 wins to 9 (at an average score of 21-20), the Sharks have won the last three derbies between these sides.
To be fair, the Stormers have not been dealt a lucky hand this term but complaints of injury setbacks from fans in Cape Town could be echoed in Durban, where Jacques Botes is the latest casualty with a broken arm.
Success over the Crusaders last week provided confirmation that the Sharks are genuine title contenders, even if the tries are not flowing. Another win for John Plumtree's side would leave them as the clear favourites to top the SA Conference because, unlike the Stormers last year, one gets the feeling the Sharks have the capacity to get their try tally ticking.
The comparative strength of the visitors' bench could well be the difference between the sides on Saturday.
Head-to-head: Stormers and Springbok centre Juan de Jongh will play his 50th Super Rugby match on Saturday. He lines up against Paul Jordaan who is one of the brightest hopes in South Africa after a stellar showing for the Baby Boks at the Junior World Champs last year. De Jongh has struggled to make his mark in Heyneke Meyer's Bok squad and a strong game for Jordaan will go a long way to helping the youngster climb up the senior national side's pecking order.
2013: Sharks won 12-6 in Durban
2012: Sharks won 26-19 in Cape Town
2012: Sharks won 25-20 in Durban
2012: Stormers won 15-12 in Cape Town
Prediction: It'll be a close one, as games between these sides almost always are. The Stormers have their backs against the wall and have everything to play for, but the Sharks' bench might tip the scales in the visitors' favour. Sharks by less than seven points.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Damian de Allende, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Cheslin Kolbe.
The Sharks: 15 Francois Steyn, 14 Sean Robinson, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Ryan Kankowski, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Riaan Viljoen, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Date: Saturday, April 13
Kick-off: 17:05 local (16:05 BST, 15:05 GMT)
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Marc van Zyl (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)