Stormers tour 'without panic'
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - A lot of their reasonably renowned "safari spirit" will be required by the Stormers if they are to stay among the front-runners in the increasingly tense Super Rugby campaign.
Their four-match tour of New Zealand and Australia comes at a disadvantageous, advanced stage of the campaign and could well make or break their 2011 challenge.
It also begins (versus the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday) against the backdrop of an expensive, if narrow home defeat to the admirably composed Crusaders at Newlands on Saturday, which rather jolts their quest to finish among the top two overall before the finals series get underway - the Stormers now lie fourth in points terms although they still top the South African conference fairly comfortably.
Going back to the days when Alan Solomons was head coach in the late 1990s and the Cape franchise went through a brief period where they were arguably as competitive as the class of this and last year, a philosophy of regarding the Antipodean mission as an adventure and a pleasure rather than a burden has taken hold with some success over the years.
And there is a case for saying that getting away from the ever-present, home-town pressures from public and press may be no bad thing for a few weeks as they chew on why they have surrendered two of their last three home games - the earlier one being the 19-6 reverse to Aussie leading lights, the Reds.
While the Stormers management have not yet openly stated what their minimum ambition is on the overseas tour - the other matches are against the Blues, Brumbies and Rebels - impromptu mathematics suggests that at least three wins may be required if they are to return to either of the top two slots overall ahead of the final two fixtures back on local soil.
Coach Allister Coetzee insisted at the press conference after the 20-14 defeat to the Crusaders: "We're going on tour without panic; we're still No 1 in our own conference.
"We'll pick things up when we meet at the airport (on Sunday) and we're looking forward to a good tour ... (laughing) we'll enjoy being away from you guys for a change!
"We're back in the saddle at the Chiefs next week. I'm proud of the guys, what they stand for as the Stormers, the way they were (pressing fiercely for a win) until the 82nd or 83rd minute.
"The vibe in the camp remains very high ... our chins are high. There's a long way to go in the competition.
"The (deserving) side won on the night after a fine game of rugby. We made unnecessary mistakes and couldn't pull it through. All credit to the Crusaders for sticking to their guns despite their injuries and grinding it out.
"We made silly errors at key moments - a lost lineout here, a missed (penalty) kick for touch there. They are things we know we can fix. Sometimes you must accept (defeat), take in on the chin."
Captain Schalk Burger maintained the upbeat theme: "We all enjoy touring; it's good fun. We're under no illusions about the (difficulty of) getting good results but as a group we enjoy going to great places.
"The travel is a bit of a long one (to New Zealand first) but once we get through that we'll enjoy the four weeks abroad."
Next weekend's fixtures (home teams first):
Friday: Highlanders v Hurricanes, Reds v Blues.
Saturday: Chiefs v Stormers, Brumbies v Lions, Bulls v Rebels, Cheetahs v Crusaders. Byes: Sharks, Force, Waratahs.