If the Stormers somehow fail to either secure a home Super 14 semi-final or they fall out of the top four altogether, and it is just a log point that denies them, the defeats to the Brumbies and Western Force will be revisited by the critics.
Gavin Rich writes in the Cape Argus that in both those games, the Stormers lost close ones in the final five minutes.
In the Brumbies match it was less about losing it as committing suicide, for the pass that was intercepted for George Smith’s winning try should never have happened at that stage and in that part of the field.
Indeed, if you asked me if there is one area where the Stormers could be vulnerable as they go into a four-match sequence against mainly fellow semi-final contenders that will make or break their season, it is that they don’t boast experience of winning close games.
Yesterday some of the Reds players spoke about how their recent narrow win over the Chiefs in Hamilton had given them confidence to come through the tense final minutes against the Bulls.
The Bulls have frequently had to dig deep to win the close ones.
The Stormers don’t have that sort of experience to fall back on.
That they don’t is probably not their fault, for apart from the two games mentioned, they have simply just been too dominant in most of their games.
And anyone who wants to argue that point should just take cognisance of this freaky but highly impressive fact of the Stormers season as it stands right now – in not one match that the Stormers have won, have they allowed the opposition to get a bonus point.
That means that they have beaten every opponent by at least eight points, and of course the Blues last week were the only team that has managed to score more than two tries against them.
If you look at those facts you come to the conclusion that the Stormers shouldn’t be falling short. The figures say they are good enough to go all the way this year.
But if perchance they do fall short, for this last month is going to be frenetic as the top teams play one another, there is perhaps another factor apart from those two narrow losses which may come up in the post-mortem.
It is something that I will refer to as the South African derby factor.
It was spotlighted in a different context this week by Sharks coach John Plumtree as his team prepared for last night’s match against the Lions.
This column is being written before the game, and it might well be that you are reading this in the knowledge that the Sharks gave the Lions a good thumping and wrapped up the four-try bonus point before half-time.
Yet Plumtree was not thinking of bonus points during the week, all he wanted to do was win against the Lions, even if it was just by one point.
I don’t blame him, for SA Super 14 history is littered with instances where poor local teams became world beaters on the night they played their neigbhours.
Last year the Sharks were knocked out of contention by the Cheetahs.
As Plumtree says, derbies are somehow always different to the other games in the Super 14 – they are more physical, particularly among the forwards, the underdogs somehow manage to get themselves up for the game.
What it means is the top South African teams find it a lot harder to pick up full points against the likes of the Cheetahs and Lions than the overseas teams do.
The Hurricanes did lose to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein early in the competition, but what are the Cheetahs and Lions at this stage of the season to the top overseas teams if not walking bonus points?
The Lions did deny the Brumbies a bonus point in one of their early tour games, but otherwise, when it comes to the top overseas teams, the ones in contention for semi-final spots, it has been a case of open gates – “come and take your five log points”.
It had to happen when the Crusaders played the Cheetahs in Christchurch yesterday. There was almost no point in turning on the television to watch the game. It was the same the previous week in Canberra when the Brumbies were the benefactors, and when the Lions played the Crusaders and the Waratahs.
The way the Stormers are playing this season you would say they should have picked up four try bonuses against the Lions and Cheetahs with their eyes closed.
That they didn’t, came down to that peculiar South African trend of bringing the testosterone to the game against your neighbour but not against foreigners.Tweet