“Somehow, luck will play a part, that’s how it goes in play-offs,” said Stormers coach Allister Coetzee after restocking the starting line-up with a host of stalwarts who were rested last week. “If you look at all the World Cups, luck has been very, very instrumental and important.”
Forget World Cups; a lucky strike allowed the Stormers to escape with a 25-24 victory when the Brumbies visited Cape Town in round 13.
Wallaby flyhalf Christian Lealiifano, who will run out in his 100th Super Rugby appearance today, fluffed a straightforward conversion of David Pocock’s fourth-quarter try, and it cost the Brumbies what would have been their first win at Newlands since February 26, 2010.
On that day, fortune favoured the tourists as fetcher George Smith intercepted an ill-advised pass from prop Brok Harris inside Stormers territory, and ran it back to wrap up a 19-17 victory.
That was one of several disappointing results, some influenced by chance incidents, which have since altered Coetzee’s coaching outlook – there is no longer any latitude for front-row forwards to fling speculative passes inside their own half.
The Stormers coach appears to have taken on board the costly lessons of a successful but dour 2012 campaign, and the noble but doomed pursuit of tries in 2013 and 2014.
This season, with the exception of a brief relapse during rounds five through eight, he has maximised the counter-striking ability of Super Rugby’s smallest backline by harnessing one of the competition’s stingiest defensive systems in the application of percentage tactics.
A concrete scrum, powered by the likes of Steven Kitshoff, Scarra Ntubeni, Bongi Mbonambi, and Eben Etzebeth has set the foundation for flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis to kick the Stormers behind enemy lines.
These gains have been backed up by the tireless defensive efforts of Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Michael Rhodes and Nizaam Carr, to name a few, and electric fullback Cheslin Kolbe, midfield thumper Damian de Allende and playmaker Dillyn Leyds have thrived on the surfeit of opportunities presented by set-piece territory, turnovers and kick receipt.
A third South African conference title, and a return to the play-offs for the first time in three seasons, has been the just reward.
In the past, accountability for on-field decision-making was vaguely attributed to a leadership collective. Today, the Stormers coach expects his troops to follow instructions.
“You have got to take all the points coming your way,” Coetzee said. “We’ve got one of the best goal-kickers in the competition and we have to capitalise on that.”
Catrakilis has converted 57 of 64 attempts at goal – including six of seven, and a drop-goal against the Brumbies in May. He is not popular among some Stormers fans, but his coach appreciates the value of the Montpellier-bound pivot.
“You have to take the opportunities that are presented to you,” Coetzee added. “It’s also about setting up to take points when they’re on offer – if you’ve got a No 10 that can knock it through the poles, to set him up for those opportunities.”
Experience will see the Stormers favour points on the scoreboard over style points today in what both camps are expecting to be an elimination match played at Test-like intensity.
“It’s going to be no quarter asked or given. If you make one mistake you’ll pay dearly for it, I’m sure,” Coetzee said.
The Brumbies also adhere to the sober analytics of a risk-reward approach, as reflected by the fact that only two of their 45 tries scored this season originated in their own half.
“They simply don’t play rugby in their half,” Coetzee added. “They’re a distance-kicking side, and they’ll try to pin Cheslin and the wingers down with long kicks.
“For us, it’s about being composed and having patience. The Brumbies are a team with a huge kicking game, and I don’t think we should be lured into any style of play that is against the game that we’ve played this season.
“We will be tested by their distance-kicking game, so we’ll have to make good decisions at the back and capitalise when it’s on and not look to create. Opportunities will come.”
Such opportunities may ultimately come from a fortunate bounce of the ball but, as golfing great Gary Player famously said: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
Coetzee has for much of the season brought his experience to bear, reducing luck to a bit part in the Stormers’ quest to win a Newlands play-off for the first time since 2010, and ultimately a maiden championship title.
15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Juan de Jongh (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Jaco Taute.
15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Scott Sio. Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Nigel Ah Wong, 23 Robbie Coleman.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA).
TV: SS HD1 - Weekend Argus
Original source: Stormers can't bank on luck