Cape Town - The Stormers showed the hallmarks of a championship side at Newlands on Saturday when they overcame lethargy and their high-spirited opponents to secure the No 1 position on Super Rugby's season-end standings.
The Stormers, who ran out 26-21 winners over the Rebels, started out in cavalier fashion in the opening quarter but, for the rest of the match, their challenge faded somewhat and they were outscored 3-2 in the eventual try count.
There was a spot of bother in the Stormers' camp hours before kick-off when their Springbok captain Jean de Villiers took ill but his condition stabilised and he was able to take his place in midfield.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said after the match that his players appeared to "run out of energy" as the match wore on and frustration started seeping into their ranks.
"It was frustrating in a way because they didn't have the energy," said Coetzee.
"I'm not able to say why but we looked flat at times but this team has been able to move on and cope with adversity.
"The intensity was quite high out there today and there was so much pressure. The players felt they were getting tired.
"I salute the players because they've won the SA Conference for the second successive year and it's been tough.
"We can't take away anything from this team because it's a fantastic achievement to finish in the No 1 place on the log. It ranks as the franchise's best ever season in the history of Super Rugby.
Coetzee said his side had worked really hard and it had paid off.
"We were not happy with our performance today but for us it was always about winning, first and foremost," he said.
"We've now reached our objective of making the playoffs and, from this point on, it is about winning and playing the percentages.
"We are comfortable with the way we play and will not make changes now.
"You do not need bonus points in the semi-finals."
The Stormers' next match will be in fortnight's time and Coetzee said his squad would welcome the break.
"We will celebrate this win and then start preparing."
Rebels skipper Stirling Mortlock said his team had been highly motivated and the players had taken to heart his pre-match team talk in which he appealed for all-out commitment.
"We had a desire to do well, and I'm proud of the way we played today, it was outstanding," he said.
"I certainly felt we did enough to have won this game and from our perspective we were on the wrong end of a quite a few (refereeing) decisions.
"It was tough to deal with that. There were times when we thought the penalty would go our way and then it didn't.
"The Stormers' defence was outstanding and, when it comes to finals rugby, it is all about winning.
"I rate their championship chances very highly."