Stormers’ playoff heartache

Aside from their 2010 semi-final win over the Waratahs at Newlands, the Stormers haven’t won any other Super Rugby playoff matches, and will be hoping to end that drought come Saturday.

KweséESPN looks at some of the heartbreak they have suffered in the past, including last year’s capitulation against the Chiefs, ahead of their quarter-final against the same New Zealand side in Cape Town.

23 May 1999: Highlanders 33 Stormers 18 (semi-final, Cape Town)

Newlands buzzed like never before during the 1999 season, when Bobby Skinstad’s Men in Black turned on the style in one of the Stormers’ most memorable campaigns.

While they lost their last match of the regular season against the Cats, they still beat the table-topping Reds, Sharks, Crusaders, Chiefs, and Blues in the last couple of weeks of their campaign to finish second on the overall standings. The team played an exciting brand of rugby, and the average attendance for that season was way over the 40 000 mark.

However, the threat of a possible strike by the Cape side’s players overshadowed the build up to their semi-final match against the Highlanders.

After a crisis meeting on the morning of the match, which averted a potential strike, the Stormers didn’t have the same spark they had throughout the campaign and lost the crucial encounter.

Richie McCaw goes in on the run against the Stormers in their semi-final in 2004. Getty Images

15 May 2004 – Crusaders 27 Stormers 16 (semi-finals, Christchurch)

After missing out on the semi-finals the previous three seasons, and having finished ninth in the standings in 2003, the Stormers were back to their best in 2004. The Stormers finished the campaign in third place, as the top South African side.

They beat the Blues 51-23 in Auckland, in a match that will be fondly remembered for Hendrik Gerber’s massive hit on Carlos Spencer. But they then lost to the Crusaders in their final tour match, and headed back to South Africa to take on the Sharks in their last league match.

The Cape side then had to head back to New Zealand for a semi-final clash against the Crusaders. The Stormers were competitive in the first half, but ran out of gas in the second half of that match.

Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders charges up field against the Stormers in 2011. Getty Images

2 July 2011: Crusaders 29 Stormers 10 (semi-finals, Cape Town)

This was the year that the 15-team Super Rugby format was introduced. After the disappointment of losing in the final against the Bulls in Soweto the year before, having beaten the ‘Tahs in the semis, the Stormers finished in second behind the Reds on the overall standings, and finished six points clear of the Sharks in the South African conference.

The Stormers’ talisman was No 8 Duane Vermeulen, as his potent mix of brute force and skill gave the Stormers a lot of momentum.However, Vermeulen suffered a tournament-ending injury in their last league match against the Cheetahs.

The Cape side weren’t quite the same without him in the semi against the Crusaders, whose flyhalf, Dan Carter, also delivered a masterful performance on the day.

28 July 2012: Sharks 26, Stormers 19 (semi-finals, Cape Town)

The Stormers were the best team in Super Rugby in 2012, and finished on top of the overall log, two points ahead of the Chiefs. They also finished seven points ahead of the Bulls in the South African standings, and got a helpful bye week before the semi-finals.

They had to wait for the results of the two playoff matches to see who they would be facing at Newlands in the semi-final. They ended up facing the Sharks, who had travelled to Brisbane to face the Reds before returning to South Africa.

However, the Stormers, who were again without Vermeulen, looked like they had been travelling halfway around the world, while the Sharks’ tactical kicking was superb. The Sharks then travelled back to New Zealand for the final where they lost to the Chiefs.

Brumbies Christian Lealiifano is tackled by Dillyn Leyds and Juan de Jongh of the Stormers during their Super Rugby qualifier in 2016. Luigi Bennett/Getty Images

20 June 2015: Brumbies 39 Stormers 19 (playoff qualifier, Cape Town)

The Stormers started a rebuilding process in 2015, and although they weren’t quite as dominant as they were in 2011 and 2012, they still managed to clinch the South African Conference title.

After the heartbreak of 2010, 2011, and 2012, it was going to be Allister Coetzee’s last chance to win the Super Rugby title with the Cape side, as he would be leaving for Japan at the end of the campaign.

But history seemed to repeat itself when Vermeulen was again ruled out of the match with a neck injury, while veteran Schalk Burger also withdrew with an injury shortly before the match.

The Stormers ended up being manhandled by the Brumbies in the physical stakes, while Scott Fardy and David Pocock were unmatched at the breakdown.

23 July 2016: Stormers 20 Chiefs 61 (quarter-final, Cape Town)

The Capetonians hadn’t faced any New Zealand teams during the league phase of the competition, and new coach Robbie Fleck was worried that the tempo the Kiwi teams played with could be too much for his team.

Fleck turned out to be right, as the Chiefs blew the home side away with a potent cocktail of aggression and running rugby. They dominated the collisions, and then punished the Stormers out wide with their quick handling and pace.

The Chiefs showed that playoff matches aren’t just won with defence and strong kicking game, as you also need to be potent on attack.

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