Stormers keep feet on ground
Schalk Burger (Gallo Images)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Stormers' "reward" for their slick disposal of the Sharks being a Super Rugby visit by the iconic Crusaders to Newlands next up, their dressing-room celebrations on Saturday night were presumably reasonably muted.
Certainly a key theme of their post-match press briefing - attended by all of coach Allister Coetzee, captain Schalk Burger and brilliant-performing inside centre Jean de Villiers - was not to indulge in an avalanche of superlatives.
Runners-up in the Super 14 last year, the Capetonians know that a reasonably rocky trail still lies ahead in their quest to go one better in 2011 in the taxing competition.
For one thing, five of their remaining seven matches are on enemy turf, including their four-match Australasian tour, so even their topping the South African conference for the finals series is well less than assured at this stage - despite eight-point supremacy over the Sharks with a game in hand.
Importantly, though, they have moved back up to second on the overall table, just behind the Blues, and have a fair shot at returning to top slot if they can see off the Crusaders next Saturday evening (17:05) - the Blues have a tough away NZ derby on Friday against the Hurricanes, who have just knocked over leading Australian franchise the Reds to feel more chipper about life.
Coetzee is incredibly mindful, in terms of the new structure of Super Rugby, of the importance of finishing the regular season among the top duo overall - it provides a much easier passage to a possible final.
"I think we've learnt from the past," he told Sport24 at the press conference. "We had to play two finals away from home (last year). It's so much more difficult if you go that route.
"So it's really important to try to bank a home semi-final which also gives you that crack at a home final."
And he kept things in perspective as he weighed up the unexpectedly emphatic 32-12 score-line against the Sharks.
"It's a good win. We're very satisfied with the outcome. It was huge in the conference context. We really played well tonight, especially the first half with our three tries in the opening 25 minutes.
"But there are still a lot of things to work on; there's a lot we can improve on, even if I may sound like a stuck record whenever I say that.
"There was still (the occasional) scoring opportunity we didn't take and in games like that you have to. This one is behind us and we're looking forward to the next one. There's still a lot of rugby to be played.
"What was pleasing was that we stayed in their faces and didn't succumb to frustration. I think the Sharks did get frustrated. Our attitude was outstanding in the collisions."
Experienced De Villiers, who is playing resurgent rugby at inside centre, also tempered any euphoria: "This wasn't a perfect performance from us. It's tough to say but true.
"We miskicked at times or missed shots at goal, and made some bad decisions in our own half that might have cost us. In a tighter contest that could cost you the game. So we still need to improve if we're to hit our goal of winning the competition.
"Young Lionel Cronje made one or two errors but kept a calm head, kept his composure. And we scored four tries with him at flyhalf, which showed his ability to play at this level. He'll get better and better."
Burger continued the temperance theme by not reacting with excessive enthusiasm to Sharks coach John Plumtree's suggestion that the baton for prime South African "physicality" had shifted to Newlands this year, given the Stormers' huge inroads in this area in successive meetings with the Durbanites.
"I don't know about (the Sharks losing their grunt); not when you see the amount of stitching going on in our dressing room!
"They're a quality outfit; sometimes it just works out like that in your favour and there's no real explanation for it. Luckily on the night we were the better team and got the result.
"We've been on the receiving end ourselves a few times; last year in the Currie Cup final against these same opponents for example. You can just be off by five or 10 percent on the day to make all the difference, and take 30 points against you. So it goes around and comes around."
The Stormers must hope it keeps "coming" in the Crusaders fixture ...