The DHL Stormers happily accepted Connacht’s gift of a BKT URC home semi-final in Cape Town but the defending champions won’t be returning any favours as they continue their ruthless streak at the DHL Stadium.
It has been coach John Dobson’s mantra that his squad is all about making Cape Town smile over the past two seasons and Cape Town rugby fans have not only been smiling but they have been spending on match tickets.
A week ago, the DHL Stormers supporters ensured a DHL Stadium record crowd of 44 100 watched the hosts beat arch-rivals, the Vodacom Bulls, for the sixth successive time in the BKT United Rugby Championship, to advance to a home semi-final, that a week previously seemed unlikely with Ulster hosting Connacht in Belfast.
Connacht provided a shock result with a dogged 15-10 win on a Friday evening when most rugby supporters in Cape Town tuned in, wore green and did a quick google search on where Galway was situated in Ireland.
When the final whistle blew in Belfast, there were as many screams of delight in Cape Town as there were in Galway.
Were it not for an incredible effort from fellow semi-finalists Munster in round 17, the DHL Stormers would have been going into Saturday’s semi-final looking to extend their winning streak at the DHL Stadium to 19 successive wins. The DHL Stormers had also won two matches in Stellenbosch and took a home match to Gqeberha. They won all three matches and in the history of the BKT URC they have lost just eight times in 40 matches.
Munster, in Cape Town, was a defeat that hurt but it was thoroughly deserved for the visitors. It will take a similarly massive effort from Connacht to beat the DHL Stormers on Cape Town’s Atlantic Coast.
The DHL Stormers draw plenty of energy from the blue-and-white wall that encircles the DHL Stadium pitch on match days.
“We had a bit of a tough one with the Montpellier versus Exeter game and not being able to host a Heineken Cup quarter-final here,” said DHL Stormers head coach John Dobson.
“The Ulster result in the last league round knocked us down to third on points difference. So it’s nice to have one in your favour. To be able to do this again, a play-off at home, is so special for us.”
However, Dobson is not taking anything for granted against a Connacht side that has shown time and again their ability to punch well above their weight.
“They are tough opposition. With respect to Connacht, a team that has crossed the equator is more preferable opposition rather than somebody flying down from up country or Durban,” said Dobson.
“We can feel confident, but that confidence must not be interpreted as arrogance. We have massive respect for the culture and team ethos of Connacht. They fight, and their attack shape is really good. The way they took Ulster apart at the breakdown was good.
“Like Seabelo (Senatla) always says, ‘we got dog’; they have that ‘dog’ in them. Connacht is a great story, to do what they are doing with the smallest budget. They are a team that does not go away, and Ulster experienced that, as have other teams. They have a helluva lot of mongrel in them.”
DHL Stormers assistant coach Dawie Snyman emphasised that the hosts are preparing for a heavyweight arm-wrestle.
“They are a tough team, we realised that when we played them in Galway last year. They are a quality side, well-coached and they have experienced players in the Irish setup.
“Connacht are a team we won’t take lightly. That game in the first round was tight until the red card and they still came back. They fight for everything. They fight for every ball, every ruck and you can see they’re playing for each other on the field.
“That makes them quite a threat, but we’ve got our own character and we’re a strong team.” Whatever the result, both teams will know they have been in a dog fight.