A compelling victory against Cardiff under Friday night lights at Cardiff Arms Park will ignite the Stormers to gun it to a third straight final in the BKT United Rugby Championship.
The Stormers are in the Welsh capital to wrap up a four-match European tour before heading back to South Africa on a schedule that includes eight home games in 12 to end the league phase of the competition.
Despite losing to defending champions Munster in Limerick last week, a result that relegated them to ninth place on the overall standings, there were signs of a revival in a Stormers performance that featured a powerful scrum and desperate defence.
In the inaugural BKT URC, a reverse against Connacht at a wet and windy Galway famously kindled the Stormers who were sputtering along with a 4-2-4 record after 10 matches. The following week they clinched the first of 11 successive wins, a streak that culminated with Steven Kitshoff lifting the trophy in the Grand Final at Stadium in Cape Town.
Along the way, John Dobson’s charges hammered Zebre (55-7), Cardiff (40-3) and Glasgow (32-7), clinched gritty wins against Ulster (23-20) and the Vodacom Bulls (19-17), and denied visiting Leinster (20-13).
The playoffs proved equally riveting, with the SA Shield flag bearers sealing their destiny with a 28-17 triumph over Edinburgh, a heart-stopping last minute 17-15 win against Ulster, and ultimately securing the crown in a pulsating 18-13 triumph over the Vodacom Bulls in the Cape Town decider.
On the 11-win run, the Stormers scored 307 points and conceded 146. It was more than a winning streak, it was an exhibition of resilience and championship mettle, and Ruhan Nel has no doubt the Stormers are capable of a similar turnaround in 2023-24.
A key member of the Capetonians’ memorable title run, the veteran centre told reporters this week: “We are sitting with a group with new guys coming in, learning the system, but we also have the benefit of guys who have been here since the first BKT URC season.
“Remember, we were second from bottom on the log after the tour in that first season, so it’s not an unfamiliar place for us to be,” he said, referring to the Stormers’ one-win tour to open the 2021-22 season.
“We have seen, as the season goes on, teams catch form, we get to learn about each other, the new combinations come through.
“We are far away from panic stations or being frantic. We are building towards something and seeing the progress.”
If the Stormers prove Nel right this week, crashing Cardiff to prove they are growing in the right direction, victory could spark another hot streak on their return to face Zebre Parma, and back-to-back December derbies against the Vodacom Bulls and The Sharks in Cape Town.
Trips to Durban and Pretoria then await Dobson’s players, followed by a four-game stretch at home – including a visit from Irish giants Leinster – that may put the Stormers in position to lead the playoff race.