Pride remains an issue for Stormers
DHL Stormers captain Jean de Villiers came close to guffawing his indignation when a question was asked at the team announcement press conference about the promotion-relegation battle that some perceive to still being enacted between his team and Saturday’s Newlands opponents, the Southern Kings.
“Are you saying you still think we might get overtaken by the Kings? If you say that there is still a mathematical chance of us dropping out of the bottom, then surely you also need to say there is a mathematical chance of us making the top six,” said De Villiers with bemusement.
Indeed, while the Kings do still have a mathematical chance of catching the Stormers (and the Sharks) to steal fourth place on the South African conference table and avoid a probably promotion-relegation game against the Lions, it is highly improbable.
No doubt the Kings’ director of rugby Alan Solomons has pointed out to his men that doing the double against the Stormers – the two teams square up again in Port Elizabeth after the June international window – will put them in with a chance of avoiding the relegation game. But that would still require the Stormers to lose both their other games, while the Kings will have to pick up a couple of points against the Sharks or Bulls, both of whom they play away from home.
With three games still to come at Newlands it’s unlikely the Stormers will go the rest of the season without picking up points, and it’s also improbable that the Kings will win at Loftus or Kings Park. In fact, to avoid finishing last in the conference they effectively have to win as many games in the last four as they have in the entire competition so far.
The Kings would really be better advised to start preparing themselves for the promotion-relegation playoffs, and that means finding a way to manage the players through this tough sequence of derbies so they can be fresh and at full muster by the end of the competition, than to expend energy on catching the Stormers or Sharks.
So what is there left for the Stormers from a team viewpoint from these remaining fixtures? According to De Villiers, it’s all about restoring the pride in the jersey that may have been eroded by the poor results of earlier in the season, something he believes is needs working on even though a depleted team scored a good win over the Reds last weekend.
“We spoke a lot last week about the pride of the jersey, and that is not totally restored yet. That’s a process that we need to proceed with, and we are definitely not going to underestimate the Kings. They showed that they can stand their ground in this competition and we will definitely not take this game lightly. We felt we made progress last week, but if we lose this game that will all be for nothing and we will be back at square one.
“We are also still not happy with our position on the log and the only way we can improve that is by winning games and getting the points. What we’ve seen through this year is that any team can beat any other team. That’s made it really interesting. Even when you look at our results, we’ve managed to beat the top teams and you still lose games to teams that you are expected to beat.”
What could make it more difficult for the Stormers this week is the expected weather conditions. On a dry day the Stormers would probably start as clear favourites, but the mother and father of all rain storms is expected to blow into Cape Town just as the game is due to kick off and if some of the recent downpours are anything to go by, that could turn the game into a mud-bath.
“It is true that wet weather can be a great leveler, but we hopefully learned from a few games played in wet in recent times, particularly at Kings Park last year and also a Currie Cup game in Bloemfontein, and the emphasis will be on us getting our set-pieces right. That is crucial in a wet weather game,” said coach Allister Coetzee.
The Kings team for the match is expected to be named after training later on Thursday but visiting skipper Luke Watson will be looking forward to experiencing his first taste of Newlands since he left the Stormers and Western Province at the end of 2009 to take up a contract with English club Bath.