Stormers face hard road to title

The recent draw at Newlands means the Stormers are unlikely to host a Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final. JON CARDINELLI reports.

In the wake of the 19-19 draw between the Stormers and Lions, Allister Coetzee delivered an honest assessment of his side’s semi-final prospects.

‘It’s going to be tough to finish in second place from here,’ the Stormers coach said.

Having clinched the South African conference title, the Stormers will host a play-off at Newlands one way or another. But after missing an opportunity against the Lions, it's now more likely that they will finish the league stage in third place, and host a qualifying play-off. Should they win that match, they will travel to Australia to play one of the Waratahs or Brumbies in the semi-finals.

There is still an outside chance of the Stormers finishing in second place, and securing home advantage for the semi-finals. Unfortunately, destiny is no longer in their hands in that regard. They will need a couple of other results to go their way.

While the Waratahs and Brumbies have accumulated 47 log points apiece, the men from Sydney top the Australian conference by virtue of the fact that they’ve recorded more wins. The Waratahs also have a two-point advantage over the Stormers on the overall table.

The Stormers need the Waratahs and Brumbies to lose their respective matches this coming weekend. If the Reds beat the Waratahs in Sydney, and the Crusaders take down the Brumbies in Canberra, the Stormers will need a straight win over the Sharks to claim that home semi-final berth. The Stormers will play the Sharks in the last game of the final round, so they will know whether they still have a chance before the game kicks off.

Of course, it may be a lot to hope for. The Stormers may be encouraged by the fact that the Waratahs need to travel from South Africa back to Sydney this week. What is less encouraging is the form of the Reds. They have been awful in 2015, and few would bet on Richard Graham’s misfiring mob upsetting the 2014 champs on their own turf.

As for the Crusaders, they have hit form late in the competition, but have fallen short of their play-off goal. They may want to end their campaign on a high, but one wonders if coach Todd Blackadder will play all his All Blacks in this match, or rest them with a view to the World Cup.

On the other hand, the Brumbies will be highly motivated considering they can still win the Australian conference title and finish in second place on the overall log. Even if the Waratahs take the Aussie title, a bonus-point win for the Brumbies against the Crusaders could propel the Canberra side all the way up to fourth position. The Brumbies will be looking to win big, and will then hope that both the Chiefs and Highlanders lose their respective matches.

The Hurricanes have already clinched the New Zealand title as well as the No 1 spot on the overall log. What will be interesting to see is whether the Chiefs or Highlanders can claim home advantage in the qualifying play-offs.

The Chiefs and Highlanders have accumulated an equal number of log points (48) and wins (10). The Chiefs’ points difference is a single point better than that of the Highlanders. Both will be aiming to win big this coming weekend, and nail down fourth position on the overall log.

The Highlanders have the easier assignment against a battling Blues outfit in Auckland on Friday. They will be looking to record a bonus-point victory, and place pressure on the Chiefs to follow suit.

The Chiefs will host the log-leading Hurricanes in Hamilton on Saturday. The Hurricanes have nothing to play for in this match, having already clinched top spot, and so may elect to rest many of their key players. This could present an opportunity for the Chiefs. They are also in a better position than the Highlanders if you consider that this match will be played a day later. They will have the chance to chase a target.

The Stormers could be forced to rest influential players like No 8 Duane Vermeulen (neck injury), and flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis (concussion), and may opt to rest a few others. As Coetzee mentioned this past Saturday, the Cape side is unlikely to finish in second spot, so it's not worth risking the best players for the game against the Sharks.

It would ensure that the Stormers are fresh for the subsequent play-off, which would be against one of the Brumbies, Chiefs or Highlanders. The Stormers beat the Brumbies by a single point earlier this season, but lost to the Chiefs (28-19) and Highlanders (39-21).

Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images 

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Jon Cardinelli