They certainly moved into a higher gear in terms of their intensity, attacking intent and focus by ruthlessly dispatching an under-strength Cheetahs side 42-12 at Newlands. In the process, they secured a four-try bonus point and are now, thanks in part to the Lions, in a prime position to secure a home semi-final.
It was a different Stormers team who were beaten by the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Not really different in terms of personnel, but different in the way they approached the return match on their beloved Newlands. It was clear from the start that they were not going to make the same mistake twice by underestimating the Free State outfit.
That loss in Bloemfontein could have been a disaster, but Saturday’s retribution on a chilly day in Cape Town has seen the leaders in the South African Conference reclaim second position on the overall Super Rugby log.
Their destiny is now in their own hands after the Lions produced a top display to beat the Waratahs, who still lead the Australian conference but have now dropped to third in the overall standings, a point behind the Stormers.
The Lions have given themselves a sniff in the SA Conference, which will give this Saturday’s derby between themselves and the Stormers at Newlands greater significance. But the Stormers, who have a game in hand over the Lions, need just one more win from their remaining two matches against the Joburg side and the Sharks to wrap up the conference.
However, nine points will be enough to secure second place, a week off and a precious home semi-final.
The Stormers will finish on 52 points if they manage to get nine points. The Waratahs, who have to play the Cheetahs and the Reds, and the Brumbies, who have to play the Force and the Crusaders, are both on 42 points and can only get to 52. The Stormers will then edge out both of them to second position because they would have more victories than those two teams.
The beleaguered Bulls still have an outside chance to win the SA Conference, but they have to win both their remaining matches against the Rebels and the Cheetahs with bonus points and hope the Stormers lose their remaining matches.
So, it seems there will be only one South African side in the playoffs, with Australia likely provide two teams –- Waratahs and the Brumbies – and New Zealand three – Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs. And that’s why it’s going to be really important for the Stormers to secure second position.
Both the Stormers and Lions’ preparations for their mouth-watering clash on Saturday will be disrupted by this week’s Springbok camp in the Mother City. But the Cape side may have the slight advantage as their players don’t have to travel up and down like they did during the last camp in Johannesburg.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee was delighted during the post-match press conference after his team beat the Cheetahs. However, he is still worried about their finishing, which, to be fair, was actually better than it has been in previous matches this season.
Sevens Springbok Seabelo Senatla showed off his predatory instincts and explosive power with a brace of tries, while centre Damian de Allende, tighthead prop Vincent Koch and the exciting Sikhumbuzo Notshe also powered over the line.
The Stormers are still very good on the counter-attack, but better opposition than the Cheetahs aren’t going to turn over the ball as much going forward. But they are going to unlock more defences with set-piece moves such as those that led to Senatla’s second score and Notshe try.
“The road to success is always under construction. We always strive to play the complete game. We are creating enough opportunities, but we need to finish more,” Coetzee said after the game.
“We scored five, but we probably left about three or four tries out there. Also, it’s a bit frustrating when we get into the opponents’ 22 and they slow the ball down. The ref dealt with it, but no ref will give 10 penalties in that situation.”
But in Senalta they have a player who can turn those half chances into points, like he did when he powered his way over in the corner in the first half for his first try.
“That’s why we wanted to bring him in earlier, because we know what he can do. There will be more opportunities and I think he will only get better,” Coetzee said. “He is also a solid defender and his breakdown skills are good. For his size, he doesn’t get run over easily.” - Cape Times
Original source: Stormers eye precious home semi