- Former skipper Jean de Villiers believes the Stormers’ SA shield win in the URC will amount to nothing if they don’t go all the way in the tournament.
- The Springbok legend thrice had to experience the pain of finishing top of the SA conference in Super Rugby, only to fall short in the knockouts.
- De Villiers doesn’t believe the Stormers need to change their approach for the knockouts, they merely need to ensure that their decision-making is adaptable.
Former Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers has issued a stark warning to the class of 2022: go all the way in the United Rugby Championship (URC) or suffer the familiar hollow feeling of “what if”.
John Dobson’s charges were crowned the South African shield winners of this season’s inaugural campaign following a brilliant return of 12 victories from 18 starts, which included a season-low four losses.
But that will matter very little in the greater scheme of things if it’s accompanied by failure in the playoffs, which commence with the quarter-finals next weekend.
The Stormers host Edinburgh at the Cape Town Stadium.
De Villiers, who boasts a century of Springbok and Super Rugby caps, isn’t sitting on a high horse when he expresses that sentiment – he experienced it himself, thrice, in the 2011, 2012 and 2015 southern hemisphere campaigns, where silverware in the SA conference amounted to nothing.
The Stormers also failed to get past the quarter-finals in 2016 and 2017 despite topping their Africa 1 group.
“Winning shields mean nothing, trust me on that one,” De Villiers said at Thursday’s launch of SA Rugby and Betway’s partnership to empower coaches in the local women’s game.
“It’s a nice-to-have, but you need to go all the way and actually win the tournament.”
Yet that’s where his hard-nosed attitude stops as he believes the Stormers deserve a lot of credit for conjuring up a style of play that’s not only brought results with it, but captured the imagination of the rugby public.
All the more impressive is the fact that they’ve done so with the distraction of suspended Western Province president Zelt Marais waging war with SA Rugby over the union being put under administration.
“What will please Stormers fans a lot is that the team was able to perform so well with all the bad things happening off the field,” said De Villiers.
“It reflects well on the players and the coaches. But, unfortunately, you gauge success against winning trophies.”
He hopes the Stormers would have learnt enough lessons throughout the season to ensure that they have the required variety to deal with different the complexion of matches in knockout rugby.
“They’ve been more free-spirited in terms of their approach but finals rugby can change things,” said De Villiers.
“I’d say they need to stick to what they have been doing though. The trick is being able to adapt and perhaps be just that little bit more conservative at times. The X-factor players within their ranks can still do the trick if they need to break the game open.”
By conservative, De Villiers by no means is suggesting that the Capetonians should suddenly undergo an immense change.
Manie Libbok. (Gallo Images)
“Playing more conservative is not about lacking ambition. It’s just small tweaks,” he said.
“The halfbacks of Manie Libbok and Herschel Jantjies tend to take the runners-first option, but in a playoff, it’s maybe advisable just to look at the space at the back too, especially if you’re in your own half. When it’s on, run but just get the balance right.”
Also, there’s hardly any guarantee that Edinburgh will suddenly creep into their shells just because of the magnitude of the occasion.
“Edinburgh are dangerous. With Blair Kinghorn at flyhalf nowadays, he really brings a different dimension. They can vary it up and have a strong SA contingent whom they’ll rely on heavily,” said De Villiers.
“The Stormers are the better team though, if they just focus on doing what they’ve done really well and execute it again.”