Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Cape Town - Stormers coach Allister Coetzee may not have known whether to laugh or cry during the latest round of Super Rugby action, according to the supersport.com website
While his team enjoyed their bye, their two main rivals for top honours in the South African Conference were knocked over, thus bringing the Stormers strongly back into the race. The Crusaders hammered the Bulls 41-19 on Saturday morning in Christchurch, and then later in the day the Sharks came a cropper (29-10) against the Brumbies in Durban.
Crucially, neither team managed to so much as pick up a bonus point, something that will do no harm to the Stormers’ cause.
But the quid pro quo is that the two teams that played so well against South African opposition are the sides that are next in line for the Stormers to play against. The Brumbies come to Newlands this coming Saturday, and the Crusaders will be the Stormers’ opponents seven days later, on Easter Saturday. The latter match was always going to be a big one, particularly as the Kiwis enjoy so much support in the Cape, but after the Brumbies’ big win in Durban, this week’s clash is also taking on massive proportions.
Indeed, the Stormers are going into a decidedly tricky period as they come off their bye. They had tough start with two big away derbies followed by the home match against the champions, the Chiefs, but the next phase is even tougher if you consider that the Cheetahs, who host the Stormers in Bloemfontein the week after Easter, are in such good form. And then comes the return battle with the Sharks.
Coetzee though is focusing on the immediate challenge, and although not everyone will disagree with him, he might have been being a bit mischievous when on Monday afternoon he pronounced that “the Brumbies are definitely favourites”. At the Stormers’ home ground? You have to be kidding?
But no, Coetzee maintains he is being serious, and after watching the Brumbies destroy the Sharks, he has every reason to have massive respect for the team coached by his former Springbok colleague, Jake White. This is the first head to head confrontation between the pair - White was Bok head coach and Coetzee his assistant at national level between 2004 and the end of 2007 - and what makes it interesting is how intimately they must know each other’s minds.
“What Jake has done at the Brumbies to turn them around is consistent with his coaching philosophies, with a big pack, a physical approach and a strong kicking game being responsible for their successes,” said Coetzee.
“To beat them we’ve got to know the plan, we’ve got to be up for it. The most important thing is that we have to front them physically.”
Asked if perhaps he felt the Sharks had been caught off-guard by the Brumbies last weekend, Coetzee said that the physical elements were something that might have been overlooked against an Australian team.
“I cannot speak on behalf of the Sharks because I don’t know what went on in their camp during the week, but I was surprised at how much momentum they were able to get against the Sharks. They were making several metres at a time when they had the ball and that is not something I associate with a team playing against the Sharks.
“The Brumbies played in the right areas, they made no mistakes in their own half, and that is what the game is all about. What was clearly shown in that game was that when they visited Sharks territory they either got away with points or they had a set piece. That led to the Sharks trying to run out of defence and being turned over.
“They have a very disciplined kicking game, but if you concentrate too much on that you neglect other areas where they are as dangerous. You just have to look at how physical they’ve been, and maybe that is something that a lot of teams have been overlooking. Jake is a South African coach, he knows that physicality is top of the list here, and in that sense Saturday is a bit like a South African derby.”