Fly in Stormers’ quarterfinal appointment

Liam Del Carme Sports reporter
The Stormers' Ruhan Nel flying high with the Scarlets' Gareth Davies in a URC match.
The Stormers' Ruhan Nel flying high with the Scarlets' Gareth Davies in a URC match.
Image: Ben Evans/Huw Evans Agency

Go play in Europe, they said. It is in a favourable time zone, they said. It will be easy to get there, they said.

Well, not really if you're a South African rugby team playing in European competition. Flights are fewer, airport upheaval is frequent and there is also the self-inflicted commercial imperative of detouring to the Arabian Gulf first as is the case in the United Rugby Championship.

There is greater flexibility in the Champions Cup but it helped the Stormers little as they embarked on their odyssey to Exeter for their quarterfinal clash on Saturday.

It took the Sharks, who had to split into two groups and be rerouted through two different hubs, 24 hours to get to Toulouse, a city that is ironically at the forefront of the advancement of air travel. 

The Stormers were due to depart for their match in the south of England on Monday but only arrived in three groups in Devon on Wednesday. This, of course, caused huge disruption to their preparation for the crunch clash against a team that not long ago was heralded as one of the most potent attacking units in European competition.

We wanted to leave on Monday, but I don’t think there were flights, I’m not 100% sure so can’t really give the exact details,” assistant coach Norman Laker tried to explain.

Then it came through that we were leaving in three groups on Tuesday, but it was spread out.”

The aircraft Laker's group was due to travel on developed a technical error that necessitated a change of airline. It was a bit disruptive, but we are not going to hammer on it and let it get in our way of performing on Saturday,” he said.

It means the Stormers will only have two field sessions before Saturday's clash but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, according to centre Ruhan Nel.

“Sometimes there will be one or two fewer field sessions, which is actually a good thing as you stay fresh,” Nel said.

Ideally, direct flights will always be prize number one. But there are certain things we can’t change so there is no use in fighting it or letting it affect us.

I think the players have done really well in just accepting we might take a day or two longer to reach our destination. So if we are going to use that as a reason why we don’t perform then we are looking for an excuse.”

He said what a team may lose in time on the training field they potentially gain in tactical self-analysis.

“Technology has developed, so everybody was sitting with an iPad, cellphone or laptop, where we could go through the plan for the weekend, and have a look at Exeter’s stuff,” Nel argued.

Exeter's “stuff” has not been as compelling as it was a few years back.

Between 2016 and 2021 they appeared in six consecutive Premiership finals winning two. In the 2019-20 season they won a historic double by claiming the Champions Cup and the Premiership trophies.

They sit smack, bang in the middle of the Premiership table but they will no doubt eye the Champions Cup to help define their season.

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