It was when he looked into the eyes of his players at the airport prior to departure, that Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus knew the away leg of the Super 14 would be a successful one.
Gavin Rich writes in the Cape Argus that the Stormers arrived back yesterday (Saturday)after claiming an unprecedented 75% win record overseas (the Bulls also won three last year, but they played five games).
More significantly, his team are now sixth on the log, eight places better than the wooden spoon spot they were looking at when they flew out weeks ago.
Erasmus admits that losing the opening three matches placed him under pressure, but he had consoled himself with the knowledge that he had succeeded in his most important task of getting buy-in to his approach and methods from the players.
“Had we won one or two of our early games, but arrived at the airport looking like a team that did not believe in what we were doing, I would have been seriously worried,” says Erasmus.
“But it wasn’t like that. I looked into the players’ eyes, and you could see a flame there, a belief. That was a huge thing for me, it gave me confidence.
“I knew we would come right, that we would start winning, it was just a question of when. And once we started winning, it created confidence, and that confidence has grown with each successive performance.
“It is hugely rewarding when your team starts improving, and that was what happened on this tour. The individual players all improved from one game to the next, and have really started to come together as a unit.”
Erasmus said that the 32-16 win over the Western Force on Friday was the most significant of the three victories picked up on the road.
“All the other opponents we played against had specific strengths and weaknesses that we were able to target and play on, but the Force are a very good allround team.
“They are strong in the set phases, have wonderful attacking players, a good game-plan, they kick well, they are great defensively. This was going to be our really big test, and we came through it.”
What Erasmus didn’t say, but could well have added, was that the Stormers were in a sense playing a knock-out match, as defeat in Perth would effectively have removed them as realistic contenders for a semi-final place. So they coped with the pressure too, and they didn’t just edge home, they really smashed the door down.
“There is a very fine line between being confident and windgat (over-confident), but we do appear to be building self-belief.
” We made it difficult for ourselves losing the first three games, but we now have a great opportunity to make a challenge for a semi-final place.
“What is important is that we don’t get too carried away, that we go back to the drawing board at the start of the home leg and realise we are still a long way from where we want to be.
“The job is still far from done. A place in the semi-final is a huge carrot for us, but what is important is that we keep improving, keep doing the small things well. Then the results will take care of themselves.”
Erasmus believes there is room for improvement.
“When we defend, we defend really well, but I would like to see us switch between defence and attack better than we are at the moment. Obviously it is incumbent upon me to get that aspect right, and I will be working hard on that in the coming weeks,” he said.
But overall Erasmus has plenty to be positive about, with perhaps the most important thing being the way the Stormers players have answered his pre-season call to be more physical.
“We have physically dominated our opponents in many of our games, we haven’t taken a step backwards in any game.
“This was one of the things I spoke about and I identified as a potential weakness, so I am very chuffed we have got it right. I don’t think there are question marks left over the toughness of this Stormers team.”
Indeed, and they are also doing a lot of other things right that might have been a weakness in previous seasons, and even during the matches played in February, such as the accuracy of their kick and chase game.
Tonderai Chavhanga’s try-scoring record is also testimony to an attacking game that is working.Tweet