Perspective to cure the pessimism
28 Jun 2011
RYAN VREDE writes that while the Crusaders are formidable opponents, any suggestion that the Stormers are underdogs doesn’t stand up to examination.
I sense an air of pessimism around Saturday’s fixture at Newlands and sadly it emanates from the South African rugby fraternity, and most notably those whose allegiance is to the Stormers. Why is this?
The Crusaders have play-off pedigree, certainly. The memory of their victory in Cape Town in May is still fresh and they have world-class talent at their disposal, coached by astute men. The Stormers’ folding in their three biggest home games of this season, is, I’m sure, a contributing factor.
However, they butchered a plethora of opportunities against the Crusaders and Bulls, and it must be noted that they went into those matches without flyhalf Peter Grant.
And how easily we forget that the Saders have lost three from three semi-finals in South Africa in the last four years, admittedly to very good Bulls teams. Furthermore, they were never in those games, losing 27-12 in 2007, 36-23 in 2009, and 39-24 in 2010.
We lamented the impact of travel fatigue prior to and post the Sharks’ defeat to the seven-time champions last week. Why is it that when, after a physically taxing play-off and an 11 000km journey to the Republic, the Crusaders are somehow immune to the debilitating effects of long-haul travel?
Is it that they will be so galvanised by the throngs of their Cape-based supporters to the point were fatigue is a non-factor? That would be ludicrous, although it is undeniable that they will feel less of an intimidating atmosphere than they have at Loftus for their previous three semi-finals.
A talented group they are, and the Stormers will have to be very good on the day to beat them, but there has been very little perspective when assessing the Crusaders’ chances.
They’ve never spent more than eight nights in their own beds at any point of the season, travelling between Christchurch, Nelson and Timaru for home fixtures, and as far as Twickenham for their league-phase match against the Sharks. This sandwiched between trips to Australia and a tour to South Africa.
History also holds some telling pointers. In the past 15 seasons of Super Rugby, only twice has a side made a long-distance journey (i.e. not semi-finals contested between sides from Australia and New Zealand) and won. The Sharks did so in 1996, beating the Reds in Brisbane, while the Highlanders were the last Australasian side to win a play-off in South Africa, beating the Stormers in 1999. It is also important to bear in mind that those tournaments featured 11 league-phase matches and no qualifier. The Crusaders have already played 16 games (the drawn game after the Christchurch earthquake excluded).
It is also pertinent to note that the Stormers earned a bye week for finishing second on the combined log. They should come into the contest in better physical and mental shape than the visitors. Also, this is a team that is likely to field nine Springboks in their run-on 15, with another, Schalk Brits, on the wood.
Again, it is important to stress that any victory will be hard earned. But defeat in front of close to 50 000 of their supporters, and against a team that has trekked across the globe, will be an indictment on the Stormers’ lack of mettle, more so than it will be indicative of the Crusaders’ quality.