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Ntubeni set to rack up century when red-hot Stormers and shaky Sharks meet in coastal derby

Ntubeni set to rack up century when red-hot Stormers and shaky Sharks meet in coastal derby
Scarra Ntubeni of Western Province during the Currie Cup Premier Division match between DHL Western Province and NovaVit Griffons at DHL Stadium on 8 April 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Carl Fourie / Gallo Images)

The Stormers will look to keep their impressive home record intact for another year when they take on the Sharks in the United Rugby Championship on Saturday.

If the Stormers beat the Sharks on Saturday, it will mark two consecutive unbeaten years at Cape Town’s DHL Stadium for the home side against South African opposition. 

The Stormers have only lost two matches at the stadium since the start of the United Rugby Championship (URC): the final against Munster in May and a 37-19 loss to the Lions in December 2021. 

It’s a proud record helped by having fervent supporters streaming in through the turnstiles on matchdays.

When the Stormers beat the Bulls 26-20 last weekend, there were 42,000 fans at the stadium.

This weekend, the longest-serving member of the current playing squad — along with Frans Malherbe — Scarra Ntubeni, will run out in front of that impassioned crowd for his 100th appearance for the Stormers, although the occasion has been slightly manufactured by head coach John Dobson.

Scarra Ntubeni

Scarra Ntubeni of Western Province during the Currie Cup Premier Division match between DHL Western Province and Vodacom Bulls at DHL Stadium on 29 April 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Carl Fourie / Gallo Images)

“What I didn’t want, and the group didn’t want … you don’t want something to go wrong with Scat and he finishes on 99 or his 99th is Sharks away,” he said on Friday.

“We forced it a little bit because that guy absolutely deserves to run out for his 100th game in front of his home crowd.

“It was a bit engineered. Had it been a normal game we probably wouldn’t have changed the hookers. 

“If we can control the narrative around his 100th game we wanted to do that. So that was a bit of a fabrication. It is sentimental but it’s not to the detriment of the team whatsoever — he’s playing good rugby.”

Although the 32-year-old’s playing time has decreased over the last few seasons, Dobson was full of praise for the veteran. 

“It’s impossible to speak highly enough of Scarra. He is probably the ultimate Stormer,” Dobson said.

“His dedication, his personality, what he brings off the field and on the field, I am absolutely thrilled for him. This is the right thing for Scat.

“He is probably the most popular Stormer that I can remember, in terms of how many people and different communities he touches, what he does off the field for so many people. He is just the most extraordinary guy.”

John Dobson, coach of the DHL Stormers, during the United Rugby Championship match between Emirates Lions and DHL Stormers at Emirates Airline Park on 21 October 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gordon Arons / Gallo Images)

Coast to coast

Ntubeni starting at hooker is the only change to the starting forward pack that took on the Bulls, while the only change to the backline sees Dan du Plessis make his return from injury at inside centre.

The Sharks are coming off a bye last week. 

Head coach John Plumtree has made three changes to the starting line-up that lost  32-29 to the Cheetahs in the European Professional Club Rugby two weeks ago.

Lock Emile van Heerden returns to replace Le Roux Roets, while Jeandre “Lappies” Labuschagne comes in at flank, necessitating a shift to eighthman for Phepsi Buthelezi in place of Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

Plumtree has made just one change to the backline, Jaden Hendrikse getting a start, with Grant Williams playing off the bench in a straight jersey swap.

“The break was good timing for us; a lot of guys had played a lot of rugby,” Plumtree said.

Despite their wealth of talent, the Sharks are second-last on the URC log with only one win in seven matches.

“I haven’t been able to rotate the squad potentially like I wanted to; if you look at the other teams they’ve been able to rotate their squad more and I’ve had to overplay some guys,” the head coach said.

“Around our game, we’ve identified a few things that we need to change and worked hard on that. But a lot will come down to just the intensity of the collision — the scrummaging, the driving, the breakdown, [because] the Stormers are a really physical team and pride themselves around those areas.”

Full of praise

Both coaches spoke highly of their opponents in the build-up to Saturday’s coastal derby. 

“They’ve got the bling in the backs that make them a real threat, and they’re looking right now like a complete side. I can’t talk highly enough about the Stormers … they’re probably the envy of a lot of teams in this competition,” Plumtree said about the Cape side, who are currently eighth on the URC log.

For Dobson, winning on Saturday is crucial for his side to reach their season’s goals

“If we want to stay alive in the shield, in the conference and want to have a play-off at home — if we were to be that lucky — this is a non-negotiable game for us and I think the team has sensed that,” he said.

The man who has taken the Stormers to two URC finals, clinching one, believes it’s just a matter of time before the star-studded Sharks find their groove, while hoping it won’t be on Saturday.

“We just look at their team on paper … at some stage they’re going to click,” Dobson said. “We need to make sure we create the pressure that they can’t [click].

“They’re far too good a side. Their player quality, their player depth, their coaching staff, everything. They’re too good to be where they are, so I think it should make for a very good game.” DM 

The Stormers vs Sharks match at DHL Stadium kicks off at 7pm.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Sharks just don’t have enough grunt in the back five of their pack. It was perfect for the faster, looser Super Rugby, but not for the more attritional URC and Euro comps.

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