The battle for play-off positions may be intensifying but the Stormers deny they are feeling the pressure to score more tries and bonus points.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee left no room for misinterpretation when he addressed the media on Monday. Seven games remain in the league stage, and Coetzee aims to win all seven. According to Coetzee, it is the realisation of this goal that will earn the Cape franchise a home semi-final rather than a drive for more four-try bonus points.
The Chiefs top the log with 44 points, and have picked up nine wins from 10 matches. They’ve also scored three four-try bonus points, and it is for this reason that they are three log points clear of the Stormers.
The Bulls overtook the Stormers last week with a four-try win over the Rebels. The Bully Boys have won one match less than their traditional rivals, but have managed to score four bonus points due to their try-scoring feats.
The win over the Rebels has pushed the Stormers into fourth position on the overall log, as the log structure demands that the three conference leaders be accommodated in the top three regardless of their individual points tally.
If the league was to end now, the Stormers would have the same win-loss record as the Chiefs but would not be in a position to host a semi-final.
It’s a situation that could well come to pass when the league stage finishes later this year, but Coetzee remained composed when probed on what’s become something of a prickly subject.
The Stormers face a difficult four weeks, with matches scheduled against the Cheetahs, Waratahs, Sharks and Bulls. The Cheetahs haven’t defended well this season and some teams would view a match against the boys from Bloem as a potential five-pointer. Coetzee, however, said such a view may be counter-productive.
‘We have to make sure we win,’ the Stormers coach said. ‘They have a good set piece and are very competitive at the breakdown, and derbies are always very physical. We are well aware that we lost to them before [in the pre-season], and so we know it’s going to be hard to break them down.
‘It’s always been the plan to win first before we start thinking about anything else. We want to build momentum [in a match] and if the chance is there to score four tries we will take it. But we can’t go into the game looking to score five points. We have to make sure we win first.’
The Stormers are coming off a bye and will welcome back lock Eben Etzebeth and centre Jean de Villiers from injury. The Cheetahs edged the Force last week in Bloemfontein, and will have taken some confidence from that solid forward showing.
Coetzee is set to name the same eight forwards that started against the Force in Perth. While this combination is sure to test the Cheetahs, the Stormers management will be hoping this inevitably physical clash doesn’t result in more injuries. The Stormers have already lost Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen and Nick Koster, and with more taxing encounters to come in the next month, they will need the existing forward combination to stay intact.
By Jon Cardinelli