Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Four ordinary-season matches left, eight tries needed to ensure they don’t emulate or even worsen a dubious figure they recorded in their last season of Super Rugby finals series qualification in 2012.
That is the requirement for the Stormers, riding high again this year - currently second overall, albeit helped by the artificial pecking-order demands of the conference system - if they are to try to somehow convince sceptics that they have, indeed, evolved their game to some degree since that strange campaign three years back.
It was bizarre then in the sense that the Capetonians eventually topped the overall standings to tee up a lucrative home semi-final (where their trail unfortunately ended), despite registering the fewest tries of all teams in the competition: 28 at an average of well less than two per game.
Even the basement team that year, the Lions, dotted down 30 times, whilst the Stormers were the only outfit not to earn a single bonus point of the four-try variety.
Everyone else banked at least two via that route and in some cases many more - the Hurricanes (this season’s current leaders) topped the count with as many as eight, though almost as weirdly they didn’t even crack the top six, finishing two rungs lower than the elite half-dozen.
The ace up the Stormers’ sleeve - some might prefer to brand it the saving grace - was their amazing, watertight defensive record in which they leaked only 21 tries themselves, fewest of the 15 participants.
This season, and especially given their particular attacking sterility of the last four matches (four tries notched in the period; easy maths of one a game) there is a real risk that they will fail to match even their “tries for” tally of 2012, considering that the total presently stands on 21, a figure that betters only the 19 achieved by the seriously embattled Reds.
A big difference from 2012 in “tries against” terms is that the Stormers aren’t as clinical defensively: they have already conceded 23 with four assignments to go and although that remains a decent effort, four teams this year have given up fewer tries as things stand.
It also goes some way to explaining why it is massively unlikely the Newlands-based side will end up topping the ordinary-season table in 2015: for one thing, they are already four defeats down (in 2012 they lost just twice in the 16 fixtures) and the ‘Canes have a runaway lead at the summit of 10 points over the Chiefs, and 14 over nearest SA challengers the Stormers and Bulls.
Their best bet is to keep hammering away to land the second home semi spot, although they have the dual challenge of ensuring they keep both the Bulls and Lions at bay in the local conference, and also that no Australian side ends above them.
In their favour, far more than the brand of rugby they are playing, is a promising-looking run-in on paper, with three Newlands games on the trot to come after this week’s bye (Rebels, Cheetahs and Lions) and then a final outing against the Sharks in Durban - they will want to have at least ensured they are safely installed in the finals series before that perilous derby against the old coastal enemy.
But will the Stormers actually try to very consciously liven up their formula over the next few weeks?
Personally, I have my doubts.
Warts and all - and under the same Allister Coetzee-led coaching tiller, remember, that guided their best ever 2012 campaign in pure results terms - it is a fact that they are well in the running for the elusive overall honours once more, even if it may require a slightly harder route than three years ago if they can’t earn one of the two “premier” slots in the finals series.
They do have certain of the assets, even if they are hardly the most aesthetically pleasing ones, to be able to power them all the way to glory, like a juggernaut scrum and the ability of their pack generally to command strong field position (especially if they can buck up their ropey lineout, which must be more than possible?).
In that way, they are capable of building “penalty pressure” of the type we saw in the second half of the Brumbies nail-biter, something that then plays conveniently into the hands of their dead-eye goalkicker Demetri Catrakilis.
I just fancy that a conservative, do-it-the-industrial-way approach is somehow ingrained in the psyche of many of the longer-serving Stormers figures both on and off the field, whether they are prepared to acknowledge it or not.
There is going to be a shake-up in tactical terms next year anyway, regardless of where they land up this season, given Coetzee’s known departure to Japan after lengthy service to the franchise.
Notable change of gear in the meantime? It just doesn’t seem likely.
Besides, one minor statistical blessing is that the 2015 Stormers do better the class of 2012 in sporting one four-try bonus point this year, courtesy of the Sydney upset of the defending champion Waratahs which featured several long-range counter-attacks from turnovers or broken play.
But I wouldn’t necessarily get your hopes up of too many others in the remainder of this year’s journey ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing