The Stormers’ dismal run in Super Rugby play-off matches will face another test this weekend when they host New Zealand’s Waikato Chiefs at Newlands in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
It is a repeat of the match at the same stage last season when the rampant Chiefs ran out 60-21 victors in Cape Town in what was a humiliating end to the Stormers’ season.
They are much wiser from that experience, and have since beaten the Chiefs 34-26 in the regular season this campaign, but history is still not on their side as they can point to multiple disappointments in the past.
The Stormers first reached the knockout stages of Super Rugby in 1999 when they lost a home semifinal to the Otago Highlanders 33-18. It would be a taste of things to come.
Five years later they had to travel to the Canterbury Crusaders and lost 27-16, before their one and only knockout success in 2010 when they defeated Australia’s NSW Waratahs 25-6 at Newlands.
That set up an all-South African final with the Bulls, which was lost 25-17 in Soweto, the closest the Stormers have come to lifting the trophy.
Since then, it has been a tale of woe, with a home semifinal loss to the Crusaders (29-10, 2011), a defeat in Cape Town at the same stage to the Sharks (26-19, 2012), a home qualifier loss to ACT Brumbies (39-19, 2015) and that humiliation by the Chiefs last year.
“It is what it is in terms of quarter-finals,” Stormers coach Robbie Fleck told reporters. “We haven’t won those matches, but this is a new team and a new campaign.
“Everyone brings it up, how the Stormers don’t get through. We’ll get through this time, that’s going to be our focus.
“We know that there’s lots of pressure, but we can’t dwell on that. We’re a fitter side, we’re well-balanced, and we’ve improved our structures. The fact that we’ve played against five New Zealand sides has been good learning for us.
“They’ve got some big players back and they’re a near full-strength side, but so are we. We certainly are looking forward to it.”
Fleck says a hallmark of his side has been their ability to react under pressure and he is expecting the same this weekend.
“We know what we’re facing, we have to be at our best,” he said. “When this team is challenged, we tend to front up and put in our best performance.
“We know what we have to do this weekend and we know what they bring to the table. But we’ve done it before so there’s no reason why we can’t do it again.
“We’re not thinking about the semi-finals. We’ve just got to keep going with what has made us successful this year. We have to keep it simple and make sure that there’s complete clarity among the players and management on what we have to do.
“They certainly will be up for it. They showed what they can do at Newlands a year ago, but we also showed what we could do a couple of months ago.”