The Stormers have been playing finals football for much of the season and feel well prepared to eke out another close victory in Saturday’s semi-final.
There’s been no talk of bonus points this week. The Stormers have booked a home semi-final and possibly a final by winning 14 of their 16 league games. Contrary to most predictions, their inability to score four-try bonus points hasn’t cost them. Their subdue and conquer strategy, while uninspiring, has put them in a strong position to win the title.
Coach Allister Coetzee hasn’t gone as far as saying I told you so, but he does enjoy a chuckle whenever somebody refers to the Stormers’ brand as ‘dull’ or ‘boring’.
Ironically, it is boring rugby that so often wins the tight games, and history will show that not many tries are scored in major play-offs.
On Wednesday, Coetzee and De Villiers acknowledged the threat of the Sharks, but they also declared themselves confident in the Stormers’ game plan.
It is a formula that has allowed them to top the league, and they feel it should put them into a position to advance to the final.
‘It’s not a bad effort for the “dullest side in the tournament”, Coetzee quipped. ‘I think it’s also significant that we are playing this game at Newlands where we haven’t lost this year. It’s a special record and we’d like to keep it that way.’
De Villiers was part of the side that played against the Crusaders in the 2011 semi-final. The Stormers employed a similar style of play last season, but De Villiers feels that they’ve made the necessary adjustments to go even further in 2012.
‘We are in a better space than we were last year,’ he said. ‘We haven’t spoken too much about past finals, but I think we are well prepared to play finals rugby. In a way we have been playing it the whole season.’
The Sharks produced one of the performances of the tournament when they smashed the Reds 30-17 in Brisbane last week. The odds are against the Sharks repeating that feat at Newlands, and the travel fatigue must be a concern.
De Villiers, however, said the Sharks are in a similar position to that of the Stormers. They’re two matches away from winning their first ever Super Rugby title, and won’t be short of motivation this Saturday.
‘Everybody may be talking about the significance of possibly securing a home final, but there’s no point talking about next week. If we don’t win this Saturday there won’t be a next week. We have to make sure we pitch up for that game.
‘We saw what happened with Adam Scott [in the British Open last weekend]. He had an opportunity but couldn’t pull it off. That’s the way sport goes, you can prepare but it comes down to whether you can put it together on the day.’
Coetzee also pushed aside suggestions that the travel to Brisbane and back would blunt the edge of the Sharks.
‘The Sharks are a quality side and they are a form side. They went to Brisbane and beat the champs at home, that says a lot about them. They’re a side for the big occasion and they will rock up at Newlands with plenty of confidence.’
The good news for South African rugby is that one of its five teams will be represented in the final. If the Stormers manage to go all the way, it would make for a terrific story given their injury troubles over the course of the season.
And as De Villiers was quick to point out, it would also be nothing short of incredible if the Sharks won the title after completing three trips across the Indian Ocean in the space of three weeks.
‘It would be one of the most incredible feats in the history of Super Rugby,’ said De Villiers. ‘And they’re a team that can do it.
‘They’re playing to be the best in the competition and it makes for a great semi-final this Saturday. There’s going to be a lot of feeling in that match.’
By Jon Cardinelli