Stormers may struggle first up
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - To suggest a year or two back that the Stormers try to emulate an overseas tour points tally of compatriots the Cheetahs would have been considered stupid.
After all, the Free Staters have long been renowned as atrocious travellers to Australasia whilst the Newlands-based outfit, by contrast, have often returned with productive hauls and some famous triumphs.
But the Cheetahs have suddenly - and very commendably - unburdened themselves of that reputation in 2012, courtesy of a two-wins-from-four performance in Australia and New Zealand (one victory in each country) and healthy bundle of 11 log points out of a possible 20 abroad.
Frankly, that is the sort of return the title-aspirant Stormers, leading the SA charge again this year, may quietly view as a decent tally themselves in the current campaign, considering that tour victories have never exactly come dime a dozen for teams from our shores.
Put it this way: 11 points or thereabouts would almost certainly keep the presently unbeaten Capetonians well in contention in both their conference and the overall picture, bearing in mind that when they return they will have all of seven matches left within our borders (four at Newlands) ahead of the playoff phase.
I suggested on Cape Talk this week that two wins plus a couple of bonus points may well be the most realistic scenario for the Super Rugby pace-setters, as they contemplate a tour itinerary which begins with the overall second-placed Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday (09:35 SA time) before the Crusaders, Reds and Force are also tackled in that order.
Some people have suggested to me subsequently that this seems a pretty conservative target and that three victories is more realistic - time will tell.
Part of my reasoning is that I suspect the Highlanders may just prove a bridge too far this weekend, even while taking into account that the Stormers are admirably hard to dismantle these days.
The high-riding New Zealand south islanders will be entertaining a side who have just undertaken the most gruelling travel of all in Super Rugby: Cape Town to Dunedin, featuring as it does a peculiar number of transit stops and plane-changes.
Coupled with that is the fact that the Stormers come off successive derbies; the first against the Lions in Johannesburg which required an extraordinary tackle count by the visitors to get over the line, and then the narrow victory over the Bulls in a match widely lauded as having been of Test-match intensity.
And while the frisky young Stormers pack was considered to have passed possibly its most acid examination yet against the men from Loftus, big Jamie Mackintosh and company loom as an even bigger challenge, potentially - certainly in the scrummaging department which has traditionally been a proud pillar of their game-plan.
I believe the Stormers, in a nutshell, will do fantastically well to prevail at Forsyth Barr Stadium, given the circumstances preceding the match-up ... and nil-one down in tour results terms, if that happens, generally means that a bounce-back of two wins from the next three fixtures would be banked quite gleefully.
I also think the tourists will have a better chance - unusually - of knocking over the iconic Crusaders a week later than the Highlanders this Saturday.
Jean de Villiers’s side will be a tad fresher from a jet-lag point of view by then, while the slightly misfiring Cantabrians will have just done a long haul themselves from playing the Bulls at altitude (this weekend’s feature game in South Africa).
The more optimistic of Stormers supporters, I’m sure, contemplate victories in Australia against both the Reds (presently at sixes and sevens as defending champions) and the Force.
Again, I would caution that one win there would be a satisfactory outcome – the Brisbane-based champions may well have some of their injured or suspended backline stars back by then, whilst the Force thrashing the very Reds in Perth last weekend is a stark reminder that the current competition boasts few genuine easy-beats.
Yes, do a “Cheetahs” on tour and the Stormers will still be doing just fine, thank you ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing