‘Critical’ playoff home for Stormers in Champions Cup

The carrot of a potential Champions Cup last 16 and quarter-final in Cape Town has the DHL Stormers eager to make the most of their final pool match against Clermont on Saturday night. DYLAN JACK reports.

Earlier this week, the EPCR confirmed that the three South African teams will be able to host playoffs in the Champions Cup round of 16 and quarter-finals, should they get that far in their first year in the competition.

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However, the trade-off is that in accordance with the original agreement that saw the Vodacom Bulls, Sharks and Stormers included in the tournament, the semi-finals will take place in Europe, regardless of where the South African teams are ranked. The only rider to that is if two of the South African teams qualify to meet in the same semi, in which case the match can be played in South Africa.

The Stormers currently only need one point from Saturday’s match against Clermont to secure a place in the playoffs, but John Dobson told the media on Wednesday afternoon that they want a full house of points to secure a precious home playoff.

“This is exactly what we dreamed about. It’s so exciting. We have dripped into it a bit, but now we are playing a European giant, admittedly not having their best season, in one of very few home games this year to determine if we can host a playoff or even get through to the last 16 of the Champions Cup. It’s a great occasion. Theres so much on the plate for us. If we can get four or five points, we could be hosting a final 16 and potentially a quarter-final.

“I just want to get the message out there, that this is another level. It’s going to be special. We will have a really good team out.”

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The previous match between the two teams in the opening round went the way of Clermont, who came back from a 14-3 half-time deficit to win the match.

The French outfit has, however, experienced some drama behind the scenes as former head coach Jono Gibbes was fired before the team left for Cape Town, with Christophe Urios taking over.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than a French team that has changed their coach,” joked Dobson. “Look, if you watch their last game against Leicester, it was a really tight, tough game of rugby. We also had a tough time in the second half in Clermont.

“In terms of what they will bring, we have done quite a bit of analysis. Their counter-attacking play is something that we picked up on. If they get on top of you, those French ball-carriers are mean. They are huge and when they are on top, it’s difficult to get back in.”

Dobson reaffirmed the Stormers’ desire to avoid the potential of a long-haul flight to Europe for a Champions Cup playoff.

“It’s critical. Playing a last 16 match and having to go on one of these flights away to a top-ranked team, because we finished seventh or eighth, is going to be probably beyond our capability. That’s when you have to make a decision, either that or URC.

“We are eager for a home playoff for three reasons. One is that I think we have a good chance of winning home playoffs in these conditions, our home record being what it is.

“Secondly is in terms of revenue. A home last 16 and quarter-final would be two great occasions. The third thing is just for the people of Cape Town. We haven’t played a lot of home games. For us to be near the top of the table hosting a quarter-final would be magic.

“This game is very important. I can’t stress that enough. It’s not important from a point of view where we are scared of losing, but more because of what we can get from winning. That makes it very important.”

However, Dobson added the Stormers will have no complaints should it happen that they have to travel for a Champions Cup playoff.

“Lots of parts are being moved and aligned just to allow us to take part in this competition. We are still finding our feet at this thing. so just to be part of it, we are honestly grateful.

“At one stage, we were expecting every playoff to be away. We have the chance to play for these two now. If we are fortunate enough to go into the semi-finals, I would back us anywhere in the world to have a go at that. So I have no issues with how it works, we are just grateful to be part of it.”

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Photo: Shaun Roy/Backpage Pix

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