Stormers retain tunnel vision

The Stormers are focused on beating the Sharks as opposed to making any statements in the broader Super 14 context.

The Cape franchise host the Sharks next Saturday, a team that has made the Super Rugby play-offs for two-years running and captured the 2008 Absa Currie Cup title. To beat the Sharks in their opening game would seem a momentous boost to the Stormers’ campaign, but coach Rassie Erasmus says they can’t afford to adopt that viewpoint.

According to Erasmus, losing won’t be the end of the world. It is for these reasons that there is no extra pressure on the Stormers to perform in the opening clash on 14 February.

“There will be plenty of media hype because it’s the first game of the season and because it’s on our home ground,” he told keo.co.za. “I’m not making excuses, because I will be very disappointed if we lose, I’m just saying it’s not the end of the world if we do.

“We proved that last season when we lost the first three matches and still came close to making the play-offs.

“All our focus is on the next game, because it is the next game. For now, the Sharks match is the priority. After that game, the Reds will be the priority. And so on.”

The game should be a cracker given both sides boast a number of Springboks. The Sharks won the previous bout 12-10 in Durban, but Erasmus believes that showing has no bearing on the upcoming encounter and that WP’s fifth place finish in the domestic competition also counts for very little.

“There’s a massive difference between the Currie Cup and the Super 14. We were only two log points behind them last year, and I don’t know how much you can read into last year’s Super 14 game between the two teams.

“There were only a couple of points in it and there were a few other factors like two yellow cards that influenced the outcome. It was also very early in the season with the new ELVs.”

Erasmus said he felt his charges were better prepared than last year, even though prominent senior players Schalk Burger and Conrad Jantjes have missed the friendlies against Saracens and Boland through injury.

“I’d say we’re more contact-fit than last year. We’ve had two matches and two controlled practice sessions where we’ve manipulated set-pieces, so apart from the injured guys we should be ready.”

Captain Jean de Villiers gave a confident answer when asked about the Stormers’ preparations ahead of the 2009 season.

“Last year the coach was still getting used to the players and vice versa,” said De Villiers. “We were also a bunch of individuals with a little bit of talent, and this year we’re a team that truly believe we can do well in this competition.”

The 28-man Stormers squad will be announced on Saturday.

By Jon Cardinelli