James Mortimer 08.Jul.2012Getty Images
While the New Zealand Conference (Chiefs over Crusaders) and Australian Conference (Brumbies over Reds) have different leaders in their respective countries from last season to this, the Stormers again look the goods – even if their supporters might have been nervous with the manner in which victory was achieved.
Defensively once again the Stormers were magnificent, and short of leaking roughly 70 points and 11 tries next week against the Rebels, will also close off the regular Investec Super Rugby season as the finest defensive outfit in the competition.
Their set piece came under pressure against an eager Cheetahs team, while once again their attack failed to click.
Despite steadfast remarks saying they won’t change a system and game that has seen them equal a Super Rugby regular season record of 13 wins (also achieved by the Reds last year), the Stormers offensive systems aren’t looking championship class.
They are the only side not to score a four-try bonus point this season, with even the bottom placed Blues, Lions and Force twice registered the attacking bonus point in 2012.
Still, with a giant forward pack and a nearly impenetrable tackling screen, the Stormers will be a threat in the Super Rugby Finals Series, and there was very much a feeling of closing up shop (which they do very well!) after they scored the only try of the contest against the Cheetahs.
Gio Aplon scored with roughly half an hour to play against the Cheetahs, and despite some fierce straight running and the menace of Heinrich Brussow, the visitors were able to grind out victory.
If the table remains as it is over the last week, then the likely scenario is that the Crusaders will head to Cape Town.
The seven-time champions need to beat the Force to lock in the fourth wildcard position, meaning they would host the Sharks, Bulls, Hurricanes or Reds at AMI Stadium in the Super Rugby Qualifiers.
Considering the Crusaders have never lost such a match on home soil, they will then likely head to play the Stormers in Cape Town, a rematch of the Super Rugby semi-final last season, which the red and blacks won 29-10.
The only solace for the Stormers is that three times since 2007 the Crusaders have lost in the Republic during the knockout stages – but each of those losses was to the eventual championship winning Bulls.