Cape Town - The Stormers don’t want to be spoilsports, says Schalk Burger, but he has called on his team to continue the “upward curve” when they take on the log-leading Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
The Cape side are out of the running for playoff spots, but they can still play a big role in determining who actually makes the top six, especially in the South African conference, as their three remaining games are against the Sharks (home and away) and Bulls at Newlands.
And they will be hard to beat if the 33-0 demolition job of the Cheetahs is anything to go by.
Yes, Allister Coetzee’s charges have lost eight out of 13 games, which is unacceptable for a team of such stature, but at least they are starting to find that attacking prowess that has been lacking in their game for the last three years.
That’s not just referring to running with the ball - which the Stormers did very well at a wet and windy Newlands - but just the manner in which the backs counter-attacked or cleared their lines, the way the forwards manhandled a big Cheetahs pack at the breakdowns and their dominance in the scrums and lineouts.
Man-of-the-Match Damian de Allende was a machine on attack and defence, while Kurt Coleman was as cool as ever when breaking the line or delivering those classy passes in winning his duel with Springbok flyhalf Johan Goosen.
Scrumhalf Nic Groom was busy and efficient around the fringes, Alistair Vermaak passed his test against Coenie Oosthuizen and Nizaam Carr overshadowed Heinrich Brüssow in the loose.
The Cheetahs looked disinterested and were badly off their game despite having beaten the Brumbies the week before, but at least the 15 819 spectators present at Newlands on Saturday got their money’s worth in terrible weather. “The confidence is definitely back in the team, and we are playing as a team as well,” said Coetzee.
“The balance in our game was the best... it improved from last week. We mauled well, we played the territorial game well. But also when we got turnover ball, we flippen switched on and had a full go and a full crack. We did the simple things well and we exited well, so it was a great balanced performance by the team. We are cutting out mistakes.”
And while the Stormers should regard this season as an abject failure, new director of rugby Gert Smal and president Thelo Wakefield will be encouraged by the growth shown in recent weeks, especially as the Cape side try to implement a more attacking style of rugby.
“You don’t want to end last, so there is massive pressure in this competition. What I’m saying is that the balance is there, the guys are making good decisions. It’s never an easy thing, once you start coming off a certain way of playing and you want to evolve as a team. And if you want to evolve while you have so many injuries, it’s even more difficult,” said Coetzee.
“But it has settled nicely. The players, you could see - we did a tap kick in our own 22 and ended in their 22, which is perfect. It’s not the system normally, but it’s making good decisions on your feet - two defenders and we had seven, so we’ll have a go. It’s about the right decisions at the right time.
“You know, there’s no one way of playing this game. What we would like to see is a Damian and a Cheslin (Kolbe) and Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen all in the same team, bringing different skill-sets to the game that they can all use. It comes with making the right decisions at the right time on the field.”
The Sharks, though, will be a much tougher challenge as they come off three wins on tour and hold a five-point lead over the Waratahs, who have a game in hand. So Jake White’s side will need to keep on winning to stay at the top, but both sides are affected by the Springbok training camp taking place in Durban this week.
The Stormers are likely to have only one proper training session with their full side before the game, but Burger, who is in doubt for the Kings Park clash due to a neck spasm, feels his team can cause an upset. “We haven’t won away from home yet, which is probably the reason why we’ve won two as we’ve played at Newlands twice in a row for the first time this season. We are going away to play the top-of-the-log side, and that’s a different challenge,” he said.
“We don’t want to be spoilsports, but we are playing for pride and our reputations. We want to give them a decent match-up. Our curve is going upwards and we will try to continue that. But the Sharks are pace-setters and we are languishing at the bottom end of the log. So we will go there as the underdog and see what we can do.”
Deon Fourie (concussion) and Kobus van Wyk (wrist) are the other injury concerns from the Cheetahs game, but both are expected to be ready for the Sharks clash.