Johannesburg - They may have to do it the hard way like the Sharks almost did last year, but the DHL Stormers are not writing off their chances of this year being the one where they make good on their threat to win a Vodacom Super Rugby title.
According to the supersport website, a combination of bad luck and their own poor decision making robbed the Stormers of what would have been a deserved victory had they got over the line against the Blues in Albany at the start of the past weekend’s round of matches.
They dominated long periods of the game, both in terms of possession and the physical hold they had over their opponents, but failed to make use of scoring opportunities.
GALLERY: Super Rugby - Week 12
Two late tries brought them back into the game after being down 15-3, to the extent that the Blues had to heave a massive sigh of relief when Elton Jantjies missed a last gasp chance to snatch victory with a drop-goal, leaving the Cape team short by just one solitary point.
The 18-17 loss was the Stormers’ fifth defeat in nine starts, and they languish in 10th place with seven games to go.
This week is probably their last and very final chance if they want to challenge the Bulls and Cheetahs for the South African conference title they won for the last two seasons, and thus book an easier passage through the play-offs.
They are still not completely out of range of the Bulls and Cheetahs, who lead them by six and nine points respectively – in other words neither of them are more than two wins ahead and can still slip up.
However, both still have a bye to come, which means four automatic log points, something the Blls will profit from this coming weekend, to take them to 41 points.
If the Stormers don’t beat the Waratahs in Sydney this week, it would mean they are 11 or 12 points behind with six games to play, and that may just be too many.
Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers though mentioned last week that it has been a funny competition, and that some “funny results” may still be on the cards and make the cut-off point for play-offs, which in the past has been around 60, lower than in the past.
If the Stormers win most of their remaining games, not even all of them, they could still be in with a chance, and if they win all of them they might even still win the conference.
Coach Allister Coetzee has certainly not given up hope of doing that, telling the Cape media after the Albany defeat that although disappointed, he thought the Stormers still had “a big chance”.
“There’s still a lot of rugby to be played, and we are of the view that we are still really not out of this. There is still a big chance for us and we are still together, tight as a team, and we need to make sure that we get the result in the next game.”
That last bit, winning the next game, might be the difficult part for the Stormers. They play mostly home games after they get back from tour, and with players coming back from injury and the uncertainty over which type of game to play now behind them, they should fancy their chances of beating the Reds (home), Kings (away), Cheetahs (home), Kings (home) and Bulls (home).
Although they lost at the weekend, they do still look like a team gaining momentum and haven’t yet played to their capabilities.
But the Waratahs are a different kettle of fish in the sense that they also look like they’re gaining momentum. They were perhaps unlucky to lose to the Bulls if you consider they scored three tries in that match, but they really found their range against the Southern Kings this past weekend.
Even accounting for the perception that this was a game that the Kings, who have had to play above themselves every week, just never pitched, and will always get smashed on such days, the all-round energy, purpose, power and confidence of the Waratahs team marks them as an extremely difficult team to stop now that they have a bit of momentum.
They beat the Chiefs the last time they played at home, so the Stormers know they will be up against it. But there is the carrot of knowing that their schedule becomes much easier after that, and victory will lay the table for a possible winning run at home.
They are going to have to play at least some of those games without lock De Kock Steenkamp, who left the field against the Blues with a sternum injury that will see him miss four weeks of rugby.
However, Eben Etzebeth had an influence on the game when he came on in the second half for his first Super Rugby appearance of the season.
The ability of flanks Don Armand and Rynhardt Elstadt to play lock if they are needed has seen Coetzee grab the opportunity to call up Gerhard van den Heever to boost his back three options for the last two matches on tour. The Stormers play the Rebels in their last overseas match.