History aids Stormers in Bloem
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Recent results between the derby foes could be the chief source of comfort for the Stormers as they face one of their most challenging Super Rugby trips to Bloemfontein yet to tackle the confident Cheetahs on Saturday (17:05).
Although you would not have expected it to be the case before the 2013 campaign started, there is a strong argument for saying this is a “50-50” fixture as things currently stand.
The situation is all down to the supposed big-gun Stormers starting their campaign so tentatively - two wins from five matches, albeit that their initial programme always looked unusually formidable on paper - and the Cheetahs surprising even their own fans by winning three clashes in Australasia and now four on the trot in broader terms.
Naka Drotské’s charges lie a healthy second on the SA conference table, three points ahead of the fourth-placed Capetonians, although they have played one extra game.
Saturday’s prime-time affair in this country (though the Sharks-Crusaders fixture a night earlier is the spiciest of the round) should finally see the Cheetahs pull something like the sort of crowd to Free State Stadium they deserve - the venue was disappointingly populated last weekend as they continued their hot streak with a 34-16 roasting of the Rebels, although soggy conditions didn’t help.
The going is expected to be infinitely firmer and the weather agreeably sunnier for Saturday’s encounter, where victory for the home side would ensure their best run ever in the competition.
True to recent tradition, the Stormers were left with another injury catalogue to contemplate in the wake of their 19-14 reverse to the Crusaders at Newlands - they picked up a losing bonus point but also surrendered all of Gerhard van den Heever, Rynhardt Elstadt and reserve utility forward Don Armand for the trip to Bloemfontein.
Still, the Cheetahs could quickly retort that they have been stripped to their bare bones in the crucial position of flyhalf, with several No 10s crocked - including having booming-booted Johan Goosen back in long-term rehab mode - and Burton Francis (ironically once on the Stormers’ books) currently filling the void.
The 26-year-old Paarl-born Francis, it must be said, was an effective, enterprising string-puller in the dismantling of the Rebels.
Certainly the Stormers will be the team entering Saturday’s game under the greater pressure mentally ... so their senior leadership and coaching staff ought to be quick to remind the squad, for morale-boosting purposes, that their track record against the Cheetahs has been excellent since 2008.
That was when they started a seven-match winning habit against these adversaries that is yet to be snapped.
The sequence obviously includes all four contests between the sides since the advent of the conference system in 2011, which dictated that all domestic sides would henceforth play each other twice in the campaign.
Nevertheless, several of these meetings have been desperately close, with last season’s clashes a case in point even if neither would have won any awards for entertainment value.
The first meeting, at Newlands, saw the Stormers clinging on at the death for a 16-14 outcome in their favour - there was a fairly spirited punch-up at one stage - and then on July 7 the Capetonians ensured top spot in the conference for a second season in succession by prevailing 13-6 in a Bloemfontein mudbath, Gio Aplon’s lone try of the match making a crucial
Although a higher calibre of contest is due between the teams, there seems no reason to believe we will not witness another nail-biter in scoreboard terms ...All Cheetahs v Stormers Super Rugby results:
2012: Stormers 16 Cheetahs 14, Cheetahs 6 Stormers 13
2011: Stormers 21 Cheetahs 15, Cheetahs 34 Stormers 44
2010: Stormers 21 Cheetahs 8
2009: Cheetahs 22 Stormers 28
2008: Stormers 34 Cheetahs 22
2007: Cheetahs 27 Stormers 9
2006: Stormers 25 Cheetahs 31*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing