The battle lines have been drawn. Now a gigantic duel waits at the Newlands arena on Saturday evening between the Vodacom Stormers and the Waratahs.
The loot is a place in the final of the coveted Vodacom Super 14 competition next weekend.
The Stormers easily disposed of the team from Sydney in the league phase of the competition, but coach Allister Coetzee this week was not prepared to let that result coax him into a false sense of security. He realises things are considerably different now.
“That was round two, and at that stage all the teams were still trying to adapt to the new interpretations. They’ve come under a helluva lot of criticism for the way that they played and I must admit that over the last couple of weeks they’ve developed into a very good side and they’ve scored some brilliant tries.
“They’ve brought something special to the way that they are playing and they are a matured side with a big pack and a solid defence, so we are under no illusions that it’s going to be one helluva game this weekend.”
The coach said they would try to stick to the game plan and strategies that brought them to the semi-final. “It will be 15 on 15 on the field and we back our systems. We’ve got a lot of faith in our defence and kicking systems and our set play systems.
“There’s nothing we’ve got to do more than trust in what we’ve been doing the whole season.”
Captain Schalk Burger is preparing for another gruelling battle with grizzled Waratah flank Phil Waugh and also warned that the Waratahs should not be underestimated. “It’s always tough coming up against him. He’s one helluva rugby player.
“They’ve been pretty impressive in the last couple of weeks and they’ve shown a lot of ambition on attack with the ball in hand and it’s really paid dividends. It will be difficult to keep them quiet and it’s going to be a tough one, as semi-finals always are.”
Coetzee said semi-finals and finals are all about applying and handling pressure and it was imperative his side cuts down on unnecessary mistakes.
“I think semi-finals and finals are all about pressure and that’s what we work for our team – to impose ourselves on defence and when we have ball in hand on attack. It’s a matter of making sure we put the pressure on this weekend, and then it doesn’t matter how great the player is, the test is to see who can handle the pressure, and whoever makes the least mistakes will have a chance.”
Coetzee praised the fanatical home supporters for the role they played in the Stormers march to the semi-final. “We’re playing in front of a sold-out Newlands again and we draw a lot of energy from that and our experienced guys like Schalk have played in situations like this and they rather embrace it than be overawed by it.”
Burger concurred but cautioned that the job still has to be done. “It is fantastic to play in front of a full house. At the end of the day the crowd can take you so far and the rest of it is down to the team.
“Obviously it helps playing at home… it gives you that extra couple of metres.”
Teams for Newlands:
Vodacom Stormers – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Substitutes: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Eusebio Guinazu, 18 Anton van Zyl, 19 Pieter Louw, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Willem de Waal, 22 Tim Whitehead.
Waratahs – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Patrick McCutcheon, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Dan Palmer.
Substitutes: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Chris Thomson, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Daniel Halangahu, 22 Rory Sidey.
Referee: Mark Lawrence