Returning to Stellenbosch for the first time since their season-opener, the DHL Stormers will face a stern test of their credentials as Vodacom United Rugby Championship title-holders against a Benetton side with nothing to lose.
The Stormers received a massive blow in their quest for a home semi-final when Munster became the first team to beat them at Cape Town Stadium since December 2021. The result demoted the defending champions into third place after Ulster claimed a bonus-point victory over Dragons to climb into second place on the table.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) April 18, 2023
In the final round of URC action, the Stormers face a massive test of their championship mentality on Friday as they attempt to revert to winning ways on a short week, while also not getting caught up in the hypotheticals in the race against Ulster for second place.
“We want to build into that quarter-final scenario. We want to make sure that is spot on. It’s about some guys getting game time, so that we can make sure we are ready for that quarter-final in a few weeks,” said assistant coach Dawie Snyman.
“But we are also not looking past the quarters, because you might secure a home semi-final but then not make it past the quarter-final. That pressure we put on ourselves is because of our performance. We didn’t want that result against Munster, so we want to make sure all areas of our game are corrected this weekend.”
Standing as a final hurdle to a potential second-placed finish for the Stormers is a Benetton side smarting from the likelihood that their playoffs dreams are over this season.
After going down to the Cell C Sharks in Durban, the Italian side is five points outside the top eight and facing an unfavourable points-difference deficit on the other playoff hopefuls.
“They are a very good attacking team and have shown it previously against the Vodacom Bulls in the Rainbow Cup,” said Snyman. “If you look at their matches, they’re a team that starts well. And then they play attractive rugby. You can see the similarities between the Italian national side and Benetton.
“Give them something and they will hurt you. But what’s also important to us, is to put in a good performance defensively as well as on the attack.”
The match will be played at the Danie Craven Stadium as the Stormers return to their second home ground for the first time since their opening round of the season, when they claimed a bonus-point win over Connacht.
Stellenbosch has been a happy hunting ground for the defending champions as they also scored nine tries in a 55-7 win over Zebre in their first URC match in the Western Cape winelands.
“We are definitely looking forward to being back in Stellenbosch,” said Snyman. “Every time we have played there, it has been a good atmosphere and the guys enjoyed it.”
Playing in a smaller stadium sometimes makes it a bit more vibey and for those not aware, the Danie Craven is home to Stellenbosch University and the stadium is named after the late Doc Danie Craven, known in world rugby as Mr Rugby.
The Stellenbosch University senior team is known as Maties and their 2nd team is the Victorians. When Craven was still alive, often the second team had more Springboks in it than the senior team, so as to ensure an all-Stellenbosch club final.
If you are thinking of the spiritual home of rugby in the Western Cape, you don’t look further than this stadium and this town. If you are thinking about a student party town, then Stellenbosch is the place. It is to the province what the ‘scarvies’ students in Otago are to the Highlanders.
Friday night lights rugby in Stellenbosch has the potential to be huge for the Stormers. Friday night in Stellenbosch is always huge socially. It is a student town, but on this particular Friday, John Dobson’s Stormers will want to show a Benetton outfit featuring many South Africans familiar with the town that when it comes to rugby, the hosts – at least on the field – are the masters of their own destiny.
?✈️ This is your captain speaking.
If you want to see @StevenKitshoff lift the @Vodacom @URCOfficial_RSA SA Shield after our game in Stellenbosch on Friday night then get your tickets here https://t.co/mvT2xfHCEu#iamastormer #dhldelivers #UniteWeRise pic.twitter.com/EyFwiieBQZ
— DHL Stormers (@THESTORMERS) April 19, 2023
Photo: ©INPHO/Steve Haag