Playing down the pressure of Saturday’s crunch clash with Ulster, the Stormers are daring to dream of a Vodacom United Rugby Championship final, reports DEVIN HERMANUS.
The prospect of competing for silverware seemed unlikely at the start of the 2021-22 campaign for the Capetonians, given what had transpired prior to the inaugural URC season.
In October, SA Rugby assumed administrative control of WPRU, which controls 100% of the team’s commercial arm, Western Province Professional Rugby.
Experienced former SA Rugby CEO Rian Oberholzer was appointed as an administrator with oversight of the union’s affairs.
The decision was made as WP were reportedly on the brink of a financial collapse, facing liquidation and forfeiting their assets worth millions.
The Stormers then won one from their first five matches, including defeats by Benetton, Dragons and the Lions, and it all made for gloomy headlines in Cape Town.
But, Stormers coach John Dobson rallied his troops, some of whom had made financial sacrifices to stay with the team, and the Capetonians went on a winning spree in which they lost just one of 13 matches to be crowned the South African Shield winners.
The Stormers then convincingly beat Edinburgh in the Cape Town Stadium quarter-final to set up a home semi-final against Ulster.
Asked if the Capetonians feel like they can still play expansively without fear of failure, forwards coach Rito Hlungwani replied: “One of our big focuses is we want to be the best version of ourselves, and be as good as we can be, and if there’s pressure that’s probably the biggest pressure.
“I cannot say this week we feel a little bit less than last week; it’s just we’ve taken a smaller step forward.
“In the beginning, we wanted to be in the top eight, and then once we got into the top eight we were like, ‘Boys, let’s not be scared to dream’.
“So we come into this week still feeling the same, still feeling like we can push the boundaries … but not feeling relaxed or relieved. If anything we’ve just gotten hungrier to take the next step forward.”
On the players remaining focused amid the hype around the occasion, Hacjivah Dayimani added: “If you look back a year ago around this time, we were getting bad press, people were not backing us, there was a lot of negative talk, and the best thing for us was to stick together and create this bubble.
“And it goes the same when things are going well; we create that same bubble and the only chats and positivity are what comes from us.
“Obviously, now a lot of people are supporting and behind us but, for the team, it’s more of an inside-out approach, rather than an outside-in.”
Will the Cape side make two in a row against Ulster?
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) June 9, 2022