Stormers coach Allister Coetzee believes how both teams handle the immense pressure on and off the field will be decisive in what is sure to be a tight Super Rugby showdown at Newlands on Saturday.
It really is tough to pick a favourite for the semifinal in Cape Town. Both teams are littered with star players and it is difficult to separate them on paper.
The Stormers earned their week off through their consistent performances this season and they will give everything as they look to make it into consecutive Super Rugby finals.
The Crusaders played the Sharks last week and then travelled halfway across the world, so it will take a mammoth effort for them to last the pace on Saturday against a revitalised Stormers outfit.
However, the team from Canterbury have already beaten the Stormers at Newlands this season and they welcome a host of All Blacks, who did not feature in that epic clash, back into their team.
The Stormers boss is expecting an even contest between two great sides, but is determined that his charges clear this penultimate hurdle - which stands between them and that elusive piece of silverware.
He commented: “There will be huge pressure on Saturday which should make this game as close as a Test match. I am sure that our players understand the importance of this game - we have worked really hard for seven and a half months and we want to be as accurate as we can.”
Coetzee believes that his side have the experience, and the gameplan, to win knock-out matches.
He explained: "I think we are in a good space, we have learnt from previous experiences and we have been in semifinals before so that is something that the players can reflect back on and hopefully they have learned from that.”
There is a huge weight of expectation on the Cape team to win something after a 10-year trophy drought and Coetzee is aware that how his side deals with that pressure will be crucial.
He said: "We understand that there is a lot of pressure, it is at home and there will be a massive crowd but it is up to us to embrace the situation.”
The Stormers coach believes that his team has shown great character in the way they have dealt with injuries to key players this season and is confident they can rise to the big occasion on Saturday.
He noted: "Obviously there have been a lot of setbacks this year but I think this team has responded really well. We played with Kurt Coleman, a 21-year-old flyhalf who is the fourth best flyhalf in the province, and we still survived.
“All credit to the players and the squad, they have really shown great character throughout the season,” added Coetzee.
The strong team ethic at the Stormers is also underlined by the way they play the game. The Cape side have the best defensive record in the competition and Coetzee is confident that his team have got the right formula for knock-out rugby.
He commented: "It has been part of our game to make sure that our defence is offensive so that we can get ball back and attack with it. It is not a matter of attacking or defending more, defence is non-negotiable it has got to be solid in a play-off but your game has got to be accurate in all departments.
"You have got to make sure that you take the opportunities that your defence will create for you. On attack obviously it is important that we show patience this weekend.
"We have to make sure that we put the pressure on and keep it on for 80 minutes.” said the Stormers coach.
By Michael de Vries
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