Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Stormers are better prepared for this year’s Super Rugby home semi-final against domestic rivals the Sharks than they were for the 2011 one, where they crashed 29-10 to the Crusaders.
So says captain Jean de Villiers, speaking at a media briefing at Newlands on Wednesday.
“The preparation has been totally different from last year’s semi: in 2011 we took the bye week ahead of it totally off, and only got together on the Monday to prepare for the Crusaders. This year we didn’t do that, and hopefully this makes a difference.
“I believe we are in a much better space this time. We lost Schalk (Burger) very early in that game as well and it’s never nice when you lose your captain at that stage.
“Hopefully we can get a good start this time around and learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past. We know how to play finals rugby now and hopefully that will be (shown) come 7pm on Saturday evening.”
Asked if this year represented their best chance yet to claim the title, given that they will boast home advantage again if they make it through to the showpiece a week later, De Villiers drew comparisons with events at golf’s British Open on Sunday, where Ernie Els pipped a seemingly cruising Adam Scott to steal a fourth major from under the Australian’s nose.
“Yes, I think you can take (Scott) as an example ... he had an opportunity and couldn’t pull it through. We’ve had opportunities in the past and couldn’t take them; it’s just the way sport goes.
“We realise it’s a massive chance for us but it still comes down to a massive 80 minutes and who wants it more on the day. The Sharks want it just as badly as us ... they haven’t yet won this competition either.”
One of only two ordinary-season losses for the Stormers came in the Durban fixture against the Sharks, and De Villiers said that reverse had come during a tough time in the programme for them.
“We had the Sharks and knew we were playing the Bulls, also away, the next week, before going straight into the international season ... so looking forward (each time) there was probably just a tendency to think ‘are we able to do this week in and week out?’
“In this instance we’ve had a week off playing - even though we did train - and psychologically, physically the guys are ready.
When you get to this stage of the competition you kind of overcome anything that might make you not play well.
“In terms of the Sharks, even though they’ve just come off travels, the motivation will be there too. This is the business end, simple ... you are playing to win the trophy. Both teams will be highly motivated.
“The Sharks are on a high from that win (30-17 against the Reds) in Australia, which (offsets) any travel factor - maybe that flying drawback only adds to your motivation in some respects.
“Let me put it this way: if they should go on to beat us on Saturday, and then travel again to New Zealand and beat the Crusaders or Chiefs over there, that would probably be the best effort by a Super Rugby team in the history of the competition.
“The unfortunate thing is that they are capable of doing that! It’s a lot to play for; there’s a lot on the line and it makes for a great game this Saturday. There’ll be a lot of feeling in the game and don’t forget guys are playing for Springbok spots too.”Teams:Stormers:
15. Joe Pietersen, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Jean de Villiers (captain), 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Peter Grant, 9. Dewaldt Duvenage, 8. Deon Fourie, 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 6. Siya Kolisi, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Brok Harris, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Frans Malherbe, 17. Deon Carstens, 18. De Kock Steenkamp, 19. Don Armand, 20. Louis Schreuder, 21. Burton Francis, 22. Gerhard van den HeeverSharks:
15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Odwa Ndungane, 22 Riaan Viljoen*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing