Stormers brace for test of mettle

Allister Coetzee says that Saturday’s north-south derby will push the Stormers to their mental as well as physical limits.

There is a sense that the Stormers have been building towards this clash since the start of the season. They began the competition in typically ponderous fashion, recording scratchy wins against depleted Hurricanes and Sharks teams, before finally building some momentum with a good forward showing against the Blues.

They beat the Lions narrowly last week, but according to their coach, the Stormers are looking to lift their standards for their final match before they travel Down Under. While they were big favourites in all of their previous matches, they could make a statement if they overcome a rampant Bulls side this weekend.

‘It will be a massive physical game but it will be a massive mental tussle as well,’ Coetzee said. ‘I’m not saying the players took the Lions lightly, but you are always thinking a couple of weeks in advance before you play the Bulls. Now the game is here, and I know the players are ready.

‘There is lots to work on after last week’s game against the Lions, but it’s not a bad position to be in. It’s such a long competition and you don’t want to peak too early, you want to improve bit by bit.’

The Stormers raced to an early lead in Johannesburg but allowed the Lions to hit back in the second half. Again it was a determined defensive effort that allowed the Stormers to claim the win, but they realise it will take more to subdue and conquer a side like the Bulls.

Not only are the men from Pretoria in fine form up front, their halfbacks have been taking good options and the outside backs have shown their finishing ability. If the Cape side is presented with opportunities this Saturday, they will need to make them count, and if they hit an early lead, they can’t afford to be complacent.

‘We know what the Bulls will bring in terms of physicality and pressure. They’re also very dangerous from turnover ball as they showed last week,’ said Coetzee.

‘We were clinical for 29 minutes against the Lions, and obviously the question is why we weren’t clinical for the full 80. Sometimes you go through patches where one knock-on leads to another. In those situations you can almost be your own worst enemy because you take the pressure that you have exerted on the opposition and exert it on yourself.

‘The Bulls are a quality side so you can’t afford lapses in concentration, you can’t give away easy yards. You have to be accurate.’

Coetzee added that while the players realise that they underperformed against the Lions, the team is in high spirits having won four games on the bounce.

‘It’s great to learn hard lessons like these while you are winning,’ he said. ‘We know where we went wrong, and there is never a lack of motivation for a derby match like this. The players have been looking forward to it for a long time.’

By Jon Cardinelli