With three rounds to go in Super Rugby’s league phase, the second-placed Waratahs lead the Australian Conference on 41 log points, three clear of the Stormers on the overall standings.
The arithmetic isn’t difficult to compute and pundits and fans have joined forces, petitioning Coetzee to go all-out to score 12 tries in three straight wins, and thus overhaul the defending champions.
Coetzee, instead, views the situation from the opposite side of the equation. He believes that if the Stormers “just keep winning”, the pressure will mount on the Waratahs, who today commence a two-match tour of South Africa that takes in matches against the Lions and Cheetahs, before the Sydneysiders jet home to host the Reds in their season finale.
Three wins will see the Stormers finish with at least 50 log points, which will be one more than the Waratahs, if the Australians lose one of their final three, and fail to bag a bonus point.
It may sound silly to suggest that such an outcome is even possible for the high-octane ’Tahs, but that outlook is easily countered by the fact that Michael Cheika’s charges have only clinched two more four-try bonus points than the Stormers this season, and they’ve lost twice against the last-placed Western Force.
Coetzee knows the alternative is a perilous short-cut to finishing second in the SA Conference and possibly missing out on the play-offs altogether – the Lions trailed by two points (36) at the start of round 16 and the Bulls matched the Lions with the bonus point earned in the loss to the Brumbies yesterday.
The Stormers produced their highest-volume running game in defeats against the Highlanders and Hurricanes, and shelved their kicking game in losses against the Chiefs and Cheetahs. “It’s like a final for us,” Coetzee said. “Our motivation is simple – we want to win this conference.”
It’s even simpler for the Cheetahs. They’re a full 15 points out of play-off contention, but have the incentive of marking coach Naka Drotske’s final game in charge with the Cheetahs’ first clean sweep of the Stormers.
“That’s what will make it more challenging, there is no pressure on our opponents,” said Coetzee. “We have to be tidy and tight.”
That sentiment was underlined by hooker Scarra Ntubeni. “These last three games are going to be more like Test match rugby – where you take what you can get, and you play with what you have,” he said. “You don’t want to try anything fancy because it can cost you.”
What some will view as irony has been a clear pattern for the Stormers during Coetzee’s term – the less rugby they play, the more tries they score.
They made a season-low 69 carries in a four-try 32-18 win against the Waratahs in Sydney, and they kicked a season-high 36 times in a three-try 31-15 victory over the visiting Rebels last week.
The committed return to tactics built on the Stormers’ defensive strengths, accentuating the counter-striking ability of a diminutive backline while minimising that unit’s limitations in sustaining a conventional attack, will prime Coetzee’s team to punish a Cheetahs outfit that conceded 47 tries in 13 matches, the most in the competition.
The Stormers’ leading try-scorer, Dillyn Leyds, has crossed for five and, while recently-returned SA Sevens ace Seabelo Senatla is eager to make up for lost time, Ntubeni would prefer his teammates not to get swept away in talk about scoring tries.
“You have to come out every weekend, do your homework and prepare as if every game is your biggest game or you’ll come short,” said the hooker.
“When we went up to Bloemfontein, we underestimated the Cheetahs and didn’t respect them and that’s why the guys weren’t fired up.”
Coetzee, who is heading to Japan at the end of this campaign, has a maximum of four games left at Newlands. He is determined not to let the Stormers get caught napping on his watch again.
“We’ve only lost once at Newlands this year. We’ll be up for this one.” - Saturday Star
Original source: Four-try ‘bonus’ point the goal