The cup is in our hands.
You scoff, you tease, you ridicule, you tell us the cupboard is bare, but this cup has only one name on it. It is a cup that is so sought after, so revered, yet no other SA franchise has come close to owning it, let alone touching it. But the Stormers have, and not for the first time either. It only has the Stormers name proudly displayed on it. No other franchises have sullied it’s beautifully complex and shiny body. Hell, it hasn’t even got their muddy fingerprints on it. This, my friends is what rugby is really about. Not those other piffling and pathetic competitions. This is it……….Well………if the Stormers had their way right now, it would be!
This is the conference cup, and is about as much silverware we will have for another season, unless the Stormers buck up their ideas! Yesterdays performance, apart from two small periods – one early in the first half, and the second when seriously on the back foot in the second half, was pathetic. Certainly not worthy of the conference and, ultimately, log leaders status.
The Stormers have two weeks to sort out their problems, and two weeks only. There is no more hiding behind the log table, and hoping that other teams will help you out. This is knockout time. Winner takes all. They lose here and they’re out. And it will all have been for nothing. With the Sharks and the Crusader peaking at just the right time, they cannot rest on their proverbial laurels.
But, still, congratulations must go to the Stormers for finishing top of the log. An amazing feat, considering only 2 losing bonus points were added to their points total. This really puts into perspective their championship. The Sharks and Bulls each with 11 bonus points still finished 6 points behind them. This was a season where the media, the bloggers and the twitterers were so sure that the next week, the wheels would come off the Stormers train, but the didn’t. They kept on winning. They have played a brilliant defensive game, but score very few tries, that has, no doubt caused the early deaths of many a fan through dreariness and boredom. And boring it has been, ugly at times, but it has won them more matches in the competition than any other team, so, a hearty well done, boys.
But now they must up a gear of 4, and I simply don’t think they can. Oh how I hope they prove me wrong.
In previous matches I have accused the Stormers of falling asleep, of playing a game of two halves, of being impotent on attack, of being awesome in the line out, but yesterday, none of these were true. It was a performance in which they showed signs of devastating attack, briefly, none more so then Juan De Jongh, Gio Aplon and Deon Fourie. Defence was at it’s typical miserly best as it has been all season, but there was something major wrong with them. They clearly didn’t fall asleep, and it certainly wasn’t a game of two halves, it was something else.
I think two things. Firstly, the pressure got to them, and secondly, as Alistair Coetzee admitted in the press conference, the players were looking forward to the semi’s. They were just not focused on the game, whether it was simply that they thought the Rebels would be a walkover, or whether they were trying to protect themselves from injury, I don’t know, but what ever it was, it certainly affected their play.
The presser was a strange one. Only two questions for the Rebels, both aimed towards Stirling Mortlock. The first being “Stirling, you obviously had a few interesting discussions with the referee, you discussed a few laws there”, to which he answered with as fuller an explanation as possible – “yes!” (a bit more did eventually follow, but after that precise explanation, the rest was just, well, drivel, really)
The second was regarding how highly he rated the Stormers side, and how far they could progress. He answered that they are a fantastic side, and their “defensive belief in their systems is outstanding”. He did go on to say that the one question mark has been their ability to score tries, but in the finals, it is not always tries that win the matches.
Alistair Coetzee pre-empted the most obvious questions when he took the chair by saying that, although you can take nothing away from the effort for finishing top of the log, and the best season the Stormers have ever had, it is that which they will celebrate, not the way they played last night. However, he said that both the Brumbies (playing for a conference spot), and the Chiefs (playing for top spot) struggled with the pressure, as did the Stormers, but only the Stormers made it through, and that, in itself showed the character of the team. He was happy that the players were able to handle the pressure. He also felt that the energy and enthusiasm wasn’t there, but that the “focus” would be different come the semi’s and possibly the finals.
AC did say that Jean De Villiers (not at the press conference), who looked decidedly off form yesterday, slipping a couple of tackles and generally not competing at his best, had come down with a serious bout of nausea about an hour before the match, and was in serious doubt to play. Gio came through unscathed – his scrum cap probably suffered more damage than his head, and Siya Kolisi was also fine, and taken off just for precautionary measures.
Apart from that there wasn’t much else to report on a pretty wishy washy presser, except for a brilliant retort to a question from Allister Coetzee that I guarantee will make GBS smile. The full transcript went like this:
Journo: “Obviously with Peter de Villiers in your region now, in the union, is there any talk of getting him on board as the ex-Springbok coach and coach of UWC?
AC: “The Varsity Cup starts next year, March”
If you ever get to see any footage of the presser, I was the one rolling on the floor clutching my stomach. Brilliant. If nothing else, AC has a brilliant sense of humour.
Once again, congrats to the Stormers for a remarkable performance in finishing top of the log, and best of luck going into the final stages.
|2 from 2||Conversion goals||3 from 3|
|4 from 4||Penalty goals||0 from 0|
|100.0%||Kick at goal success||100.0%|
|25||Kicks from hand||18|
|317||Metres run with ball||359|
|76 from 77 (98.7%)||Rucks won||91 from 96 (94.8%)|
|0 from 0||Mauls won||0 from 0|
|92.7%||Tackling success rate||86.5%|
|4 won, 0 lost (100.0%)||Scrums on own feed||6 won, 0 lost (100.0%)|
|11 won, 3 lost (78.6%)||Lineouts on own throw||16 won, 2 lost (88.9%)|
Stats courtesy of ESPN Scrum
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Deon Fourie, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Brok Harris, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schrueder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Stirling Mortlock (captain), 11 Lachlan Mitchell, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Hugh Perrett, 6 Tim Davidson, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Rodney Blake.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Ryan Hodson, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Cooper Vuna, 22 Richard Kingi.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mark Lawrence (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)