CAPE TOWN – While the Stormers have succeeded in claiming their first win in three matches, coach Robbie Fleck was spot on when he said that the pressure is still on them. Very much so.
The Stormers were at the bottom of the South African conference and 12th on the overall Super Rugby log going into their home game against the Rebels last Friday. And while they moved up to fourth spot in their extremely tight conference, overtaking the Jaguares after the 34-18 win over the Aussies, they will know that the pressure didn’t drop at all as they look to crack a spot in the top eight to qualify for the play-offs.
As they prepare to host the Bulls on Saturday, that win against the Rebels was surely needed after six defeats away. It gave the Stormers a 100 percent success rate at Newlands this season, although some of those victories didn’t come easily, in fact some weren’t pretty or impressive at all.
Perhaps the win against the Rebels also gave them a bit of confidence to add to the advantage of playing at home, but given that it wasn’t complete, dominant performance, just how much confidence it’ll give them will have to be seen.
The Stormers could have bagged a bonus point against the Rebels, but a number of errors robbed them of that chance. But it should perhaps be specific areas or factors that should give them that spring in their step that’ll be needed against John Mitchell’s men.
Their scrum was solid against the Rebels, and it’s certainly something that they have every reason to feel good about.
The forwards also did a decent job, and it was a pleasing aspect if you take into account the fact that the Stormers pack has struggled at times this season.
The fact that their attack, but for the errors, looked better is of course also a plus. And some of the things they dished out in that department definitely deserves praise.
There was some good width on attack, they varied their points of attack and also strung together some good moments - and wing JJ Engelbrecht’s try was probably the best example of one of those good moments.
And if you mention a “good moment” from that game, you can’t skip inside centre Damian de Allende’s series of top touches as he continues to rebuild his game in 2018. So hopefully he builds on that against the men from Pretoria.
And when it came to the ball leaving their hands, some passes also caught the eye - those quick, short throws, the offloads and the find-your-man-out-wide balls.
All of that was good to see.
But there can be no side-stepping around the fact that the Stormers cannot afford to be as messy against the Bulls. Yeah, if you try things on attack, it’s almost a given that one or two balls won’t go to hand or that it just won’t work out for whatever reason.
But forward passes and knock-ons, especially knock-ons (like we saw in that first half against the Rebels) just won’t do.
Maybe that was rushed play brought on by desperation or nerves, because they seemed to settle as the clocked ticked on in the first 40. But it’s still something that they can’t afford against their rivals.
And speaking of non-negotiables - the Stormers’ performance under the high ball is another one, especially if you look at the kind of players the Bulls have in their backline; players that don’t have to be asked twice to exploit mistakes.
And then there’s obviously the breakdown, a battle that’s going to be an interesting one.
The Bulls’ last-minute defeat to the Highlanders was a heart-breaking one, and it could have a galvanising effect as they head to Cape Town., if they do need any motivation.
One of the areas where the Bulls hurt the Stormers the most when they met at Loftus a few weeks ago is their driving maul, an area which the Bulls used as a very efficient try-scoring method, and one where the Stormers will have to be on point, especially from a defensive point of view.
The Bulls’ attacking spark has been a major part of their game this season, and they haven’t slacked without the ball either.
Individually, there have been some awesome contributions from the Bulls. And the ridiculously skilful contributions of their forwards (like their locks), combined with their backline’s potency and the general interplay has also made it tough to think back to the pre-John Mitchell era.
There will be many battles within the battle when the Stormers host the Bulls in front of the Faithful, and in addition to replicating the good things they did against the Rebels, they will undoubtedly have to tick way more boxes against the Bulls.