Captain Steven Kitshoff believes a winning mentality will be key to pushing the Stormers further into the playoffs than great teams of the past. DYLAN JACK reports.
On Saturday, the Stormers will begin their journey through the Vodacom United Rugby Championship playoffs when they host Scottish side Edinburgh in Cape Town.
Having finished second overall on the table, the Stormers are set to host both a quarter- and semi-final and could host the final if first-placed Leinster lose either their quarter- or semi-final.
Ordinarily, this would be a massive advantage, but history shows the Stormers have not always made the benefit of playing on their home ground count. Starting in 1999, when the ‘Men in Black’ team finished second overall but infamously lost a Newlands-based Super Rugby semi-final to the Highlanders, the Stormers constantly seem to have tripped up in a home playoff.
In the last decade of Super Rugby, when the Stormers topped their respective conference four times, finishing in the top three five times, they somehow lost in the home qualifier or semi-final.
However, during a media conference on Wednesday in the buildup to their URC quarter-final in Cape Town, captain Kitshoff said he is convinced 2022 will be different.
“Looking at the past, since 2010 the Stormers have been playing good rugby in certain seasons and getting those playoffs and finals, but not always going through on it,” he said.
“This year has been a bit different in the way we have actually started building momentum from around the middle of the season onwards, where we had our home stretch. We knew that if we keep building on our game and keep performing well that we could get into a playoff scenario and hopefully finish close to the top of the log.
“This team is in really good form. Everyone understands their role and the job that needs to be done. If we go in with that same mindset and just do what we normally do, but better, we will increase our chances of making it through all the playoff games.
“To be honest, this team is in a really good spot. We are quite excited. The buzz around training is very exciting. So, I think we have a great chance.”
Unlike seasons past, the Stormers go into the first round of playoffs on the back of an excellent run of form, during which they won their last eight games at home, including tough fixtures against Irish sides Leinster and Ulster.
“Winning becomes a habit, I truly believe it,” Kitshoff said. “If something quickly happens – like when we went behind to Scarlets early in the game – you look at how the guys kept on sticking to the way we play. Nobody started panicking and we clawed our way back.
“This team, in the way we have been preparing over the last three months, it’s been about guys believing in the structures, believing that this is the way we are going to win games. That belief translates into the way we play.
“In tight games, it can always come down to a drop of the ball or a penalty here or there to win or lose the game. But if we stick to our plan, we know we will create opportunities to score tries and prevent teams from scoring points. That’s how we see we can win big games.”
Against Edinburgh, Kitshoff will face a couple of familiar scrum opponents in South African-born Scotland props WP Nel and Pierre Schoeman.
“It wasn’t that long ago that they were playing their rugby in South Africa. I have played a few games against them. Watching them play in Scotland, they have been performing quite well.
“Edinburgh has a very good pack of forwards, a bunch of big guys, strong ball-carriers. They’ve got good work rate around the park. It’s going to be an interesting challenge. I haven’t played against them in quite a while, so I am really looking forward to that challenge.”
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