The Stormers will need to break franchise and South African play-off records in order to claim their maiden Vodacom Super Rugby title. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Stormers are three wins away from a Super Rugby title. If they beat the Brumbies at Newlands this Saturday, they will advance to a semi-final against the Waratahs in Sydney. Should they qualify for the tournament decider, they will travel to Wellington to play the Hurricanes, or all the way back to Cape Town to host the Highlanders or Chiefs.
Three steps to glory. It sounds so simple. Unfortunately, when you take the Stormers’ play-off record into account, the odds are against the Cape side emerging with the trophy that matters.
What will encourage the class of 2015 is their unbeaten record against the Australian teams. They will feel confident about beating the Brumbies and Waratahs in successive weeks, given they have already beaten the self-same teams during the league stage. They are also one of only two teams that beat the Waratahs in Sydney in 2015.
However, that record against the Australians contrasts their run against the top New Zealand sides in 2015. The Stormers lost to the Chiefs 28-19 (home), Highlanders 39-21 (away) and Hurricanes 25-20 (away) during the league stage. That record will not encourage them should they come up against any of these three teams in the final.
But first thing's first. The Stormers need to win in Cape Town this weekend, and then in Sydney next Saturday if they are to advance to the final. Two victories over the next two weeks will triple their existing win tally in play-off matches.
The Stormers have featured in six play-off games over the past 19 years. Of those six games, they have won on just one occasion.
The Stormers lost 33-18 to the Highlanders in the 1999 semi-final at Newlands. They were thumped 27-16 by the Crusaders in the penultimate game of the 2004 tournament in Christchurch. Their only win in play-off matches came in 2010, when they beat the Waratahs 25-6 in Cape Town. Unfortunately, they were humbled a week later when they went down 25-17 in the final against the Bulls in Soweto.
More recently, they lost consecutive home semi-finals in 2011 and 2012 (29-10 against the Crusaders and 26-19 to the Sharks respectively). To summarise, they have never won a play-off match away from home, have lost three from four knockout games at Newlands, and have never beaten a New Zealand team in a do-or-die match.
This weekend’s qualifying play-off against the Brumbies will present a great opportunity to score their first knockout win since 2010. The Brumbies are coming off a big loss to the Crusaders. They are travelling all the way from Canberra for this knockout game. Fatigue may sap the strength of the Australians.
By contrast, the Stormers will have no such problems. Coach Allister Coetzee took a second-string team to Durban last week. The Stormers' first-choice players will go into the clash against the Brumbies having enjoyed a two-week break. They should, in theory, be the fresher of the two teams.
Of course, where the Stormers are concerned, there are no guarantees. They enjoyed a two-week break in the buildup to both the 2011 and 2012 semi-finals, but still lost to teams that had travelled from overseas.
The 2012 result was a particularly big upset, as the Sharks had played in Australia just the week before. Despite travelling from Durban to Brisbane, and then Brisbane to Cape Town in less than fortnight, the Sharks still managed to pip the Stormers at Newlands.
Coach Allister Coetzee has been at the helm of the Stormers since 2010. He more than anybody will be hoping that the Stormers end their rotten run in play-off matches this Saturday.
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