The Super 15 showdown in Durban on Friday night will determine whether or not the Stormers square up against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday in pursuit of the SA conference-lead.
With two league games to go, the Stormers (second overall) have a four-point lead on the Pretorians in the SA conference.
If the Bulls stampede to victory at King’s Park, they could take the conference lead and thus apply pressure on the Stormers to thunder through the Cheetahs.
But, if the three-time champions are devoured by the Sharks, the Stormers will breeze into Bloemfontein knowing that their status as SA flagbearers is safe for at least one more week.
Attack coach Robbie Fleck says the Stormers will have their fingers in their ears until they get to the Free State Stadium on Saturday.
“Look, it’s only human nature to be concerned (about our log position) and want to watch that game (between the Sharks and Bulls),” Fleck told the Cape Argus last night. “But our focus is on the Cheetahs this week and we’ve told the guys not to worry about that result.
“One thing that we’ve really got right this season is not to focus on anything but the next game, the last thing we want is the guys shutting off if the Bulls lose.”
Such a result would see the Sharks’ five-point deficit on the Bulls (54 log points) reduced and leave the Stormers needing just two points to retain their conference title.
However, Fleck says the Stormers want to finish the league phase in first place overall and thus clinch home field advantage throughout the play-offs. “Our aim is to be the best team in this competition and to do that we need 10 points from our next two matches,” added the former Springbok centre.
The Chiefs (62 log points) are in first place on the overall standings, though their path to the play-offs is a potential minefield.
“The Chiefs must play the Crusaders this week and then the Hurricanes away,” Stormers coach Allister Coetzee pointed out earlier this week. “And the Crusaders will go into that game knowing they must win to stay in the competition.”
A Chiefs slip-up this week, combined with a big win for the travelling side in Bloemfontein, could see the Stormers clinch top spot.
The Cheetahs conceded six tries against the Bulls last week and the Stormers’ hopes of thundering to a bonus-point win has been boosted by news that Boks Bryan Habana and Juan de Jongh have recovered from ‘flu and are available to start.
Unfortunately, centre Marcel Brache, who performed well on debut, suffered a “double rib fracture” during last week’s 27-17 win against the Lions and has been ruled out for three weeks.