Waratahs stand in way of Stormers' first final
May 19, 2010
The Stormers have sent Cape Town into party mode ahead of their semi-final © Getty Images
The Waratahs will need to overcome an overwhelming set of hurdles if they are to upset the Stormers in the last ever Super 14 semi-final on Saturday.
The Stormers welcome Australia's only top-four representatives to their Newlands fortress knowing the winner will take on the victors of the Bulls-Crusaders battle - which will finish shortly before kick-off in this game - for the right to be crowned as the final Super 14 champions before the competition switches to the new 15-team conference-based format next year.
Almost all the pre-match factors point towards a home win, meaning Chris Hickey's Waratahs may need to win their own mental battle in the dressing room before they even challenge the might of the Stormers on the pitch.
No Australian side has ever won a finals match on South African soil and the Waratahs have had to make the gruelling 20-hour journey from Sydney's east coast to South Africa's western reaches this week. The Stormers have lost just once at Newlands this season, that also being their only loss in their home nation this year, and Cape Town has been in party mode in anticipation of their heroes reaching their first Super Rugby final.
The Stormers reached the top two on the back of their brutal defence, giving up a record low 13.15 points per game. At home that figure was just 10 points per game with one try conceded on average. If the Waratahs are searching for positives, they can perhaps look to the Stormers' record against Australian sides this season. After beating the Waratahs 27-6 in Round 2, the Cape Town side lost to the Brumbies at home and to the Reds and Force on Australian soil.
As if the statistics don't present enough of a challenge to the visitors, the Stormers will be cheered on by around 50,000 screaming fans at Newlands, just as they were as they dismantled the top of the table Bulls - albeit with almost their whole first XV rested - 38-10 last week.
The Stormers have avoided overseas travel through all of May and they have no fresh injury concerns for the semi-final, allowing Allister Coetzee to select an unchanged team for the game. Coetzee said this week that match preparation at this end of the season was all about getting into the right mindset.
"At this stage it's not about how much work you put in physically, but how much you do mentally," said Coetzee. "We'll have to manage our preparation this week. The players have to go out and impose themselves physically, which means they have to pitch up with physical intensity and keep up the pressure.
"We have to make sure we back our systems. It's been working. Whenever we play within our systems, there's no great individual performance but a solid team performance. We'll leave nothing out there against the Waratahs and we know that it will be a different Waratahs side coming out here this time. We won't play in a manner where we are trying to keep something back for the following week (possibly a final)."
Stormers captain Schalk Burger echoed his coach's view that the Waratahs have improved since the Round 2 clash between the sides.
"This is a semi-final and playing a Waratahs team in good form will require us to be at our best," said Burger. "We had a good performance against the Waratahs earlier this season - it was pretty convincing at the time, but I think they are a much improved side since we played them."
Waratahs coach Hickey agreed wholeheartedly with the Stormers hierarchy in that it will be a different team that runs out on Saturday than the one that lost 13 weeks ago. Hickey said while injuries have helped shape a line-up that has become a successful formula, it was an improved mindset that defined the new Waratahs.
Hickey will also select an unchanged side after Dan Palmer and Damien Fitzpatrick overcame minor knocks sustained in their 'quarter-final' win over the Hurricanes last week. The Waratahs have been focusing on physical recovery since making the flight across the Indian Ocean.
"It's a long flight," Hickey said. "You're in transit for probably 20 hours, I guess, from the time you leave one hotel (in Sydney) and reach another hotel here. So it's nice to put that behind us. It's never pleasant but we're getting better at managing it. There's no great secret to winning here. You've got to manage the travel side as best as possible and our strength and conditioning people are right on top of that.
No.8 Ben Mowen said the Waratahs would adopt a physical approach to bash the Stormers defence back before letting their in-form backs launch their attacks.
''It all comes down to the ball carry and how physical you are at that first breakdown," Mowen said. "It will be all based on getting on that front foot early off set pieces and getting momentum so they don't get a chance to set their defence and get off the line. Teams that have had success against them have created quick ball and forced the defence to be on their heels. It allows you to play a natural game.''
Waratahs back three Kurtley Beale, Drew Mitchell and Lachie Turner had success with the chip over the top last week, and they might seek to exploit the space behind the Stormers line if it proves to be an unbreakable wall.
The Waratahs will know by kick-off whether a win will see them host the Super 14 final against the Crusaders in Sydney, if the New Zealand side upset the Bulls in Suweto. If the Crusaders do spring a surprise, though, the Stormers fans will simply lift the atmosphere a few decibels at the thought of coming back a week later to host the historic final Super 14 showdown themselves.
Stormers: Joe Pietersen; Gio Aplon, Jaque Fourie, Juan de Jongh, Bryan Habana; Peter Grant, Dewaldt Duvenage; Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger (captain), Andries Bekker, Adriaan Fondse, Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, Wicus Blaauw
Replacements: Deon Fourie, Eusebio Guinazu, Anton van Zyl, Pieter Louw, Ricky Januarie, Willem de Waal, Tim Whitehead
Waratahs: Kurtley Beale; Lachie Turner, Rob Horne, Tom Carter, Drew Mitchell; Berrick Barnes, Luke Burgess; Ben Mowen, Phil Waugh (captain), Pat McCutcheon, Kane Douglas, Dean Mumm, Al Baxter, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Dan Palmer
Replacements: Damien Fitzpatrick, Jeremy Tilse, Chris Thomson, Dave Dennis, Josh Holmes, Daniel Halangahu, Rory Sidey
Referee: Mark Lawrence