Playoffs task to suit Stormers?

    2015-06-09 10:32

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - The growing likelihood that they may play the Brumbies in a Newlands “quarter-final”, plus their deeply-rooted culture of touring overseas quite comfortably and happily, means the Stormers’ quest for a maiden Super Rugby title from here cannot simply be dismissed as outlandish.

    Yes, it is looking increasingly as though they will end the least favourably-placed of the three conference winners, meaning the potential booby-trap of an extra fixture in the finals series and then away (abroad) semi-final.

    History tells you that the team ending third overall has not yet won the grand prize ... but remember also that the three-group system has only been in place since 2011 so it cannot credibly be branded some ghastly, particularly glaring hoodoo yet.

    Besides, they may still end ordinary season second overall, although as reported on Sport24 at the weekend it would need as many as three results next Saturday going their way: Stormers beating old adversaries the Sharks in Durban, plus both of the Australian duo of the Waratahs and Brumbies crashing in home games against the Reds and Crusaders respectively.

    You get a strong sense under the circumstances that the Stormers are already contemplating the far more realistic-looking scenario of bracing for a Newlands pre-semis qualifier, and thus resting several core personnel for a Kings Park clash likely only to bring the extra risk of injuries or fatigue at an inconvenient juncture.

    The bean-counters at the franchise will be pretty chuffed that their stadium hosts a guaranteed Super Rugby knockout match - even if it is one round short of a semi - and should the team get through it unscathed, they would face a trek across the Indian Ocean that would involve a maximum of a fortnight rather than the more arduous four-match leg required in ordinary season.

    A thought also to bank if you are a Stormers supporter of optimistic disposition is that there is a proud tradition at Newlands of the side being arguably the most fearless of the South African crop when it comes to travelling to Australasia.

    In short, the Stormers tend not to pine for “ma se kos” as much as certain compatriots in the competition, and this ethic goes back as far as the days of Alan Solomons’ tenure as head coach in the late 1990s.

    It was “Solly”, also a Springbok assistant coach of some renown when Nick Mallett had the main reins, who first put really serious effort into psyching the franchise squad in all the most suitable ways for the demands of exploring foreign climes.

    In short, he advocated embracing it as an adventure rather than seeing it as an ordeal.

    There have been a few bad years, but the overall trend is for the Stormers to lose fewer clashes abroad than the majority of others from our shores and to be more competitive in the ones they do surrender.

    The Stormers had another acceptable overseas leg (2/4) earlier this campaign, recovering very well after a first-up grilling (39-21) at the hands of the Highlanders.

    They then gave the now confirmed ordinary-season “champions” the Hurricanes a major fright in a stirring second-half comeback before losing 25-20, and using the momentum gained in those lively 40 minutes to good advantage in the two-wins-from-two Aussie leg - including a famous bonus-point triumph over the title-holding Waratahs in Sydney.

    On that note, a glance at the current overall table suggests that if the Stormers do finish third and play the eventual sixth-placed side in the “quarter”, the Brumbies (lowest-ranked playoffs side with one round to go) shape as their likeliest foes at Newlands.

    It wouldn’t be the worst outlook, because even though it was desperately close and an occasionally ill-tempered affair, there is the handy knowledge that they saw off the visitors from Canberra 25-24 in Cape Town as recently as May 9.

    Unless coach Allister Coetzee and his lieutenants have other views, they seem the most desirable - if that is the right word - opponents.

    The Stormers have a 100 percent record against Aussie teams this year, having beaten all of the Force, Waratahs, Brumbies and Rebels, whereas they fall closely in line with the broad SA trend of struggling to suppress New Zealanders - their record is a mere 25 percent there, with a sole win over the basement-lying Blues at Newlands and defeats to the Chiefs (also in Cape Town), Highlanders and Hurricanes.

    They may still have to tackle either of the Chiefs or Highlanders again, and if it is the former, in particular, it might involve a spot of “Sonny Bill” hysteria - assuming midfield maestro Williams regains fitness soon - among a significant section of the Capetonian public traditionally partial to NZ rugby causes.

    A date with the Brumbies, with due respect to a high-quality outfit, just seems a slightly less taxing fit for the Stormers if a quarter-final is placed in front of them ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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