If we want to win the real thing, we have a hell-of-a-lot of work to do
The Stormers, who have won the South African conference for a second successive year, are happy to 'win ugly' if it means they can take home the real trophy.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, in analysing his team's march to the top of the Super Rugby standings, admitted that they do not always play the prettiest rugby.
However, they are not about to change their 'winning recipe' just to appease a few pundits who are beating the old drum of scoring four-try bonus points.
Coetzee's riposte to those critics: "It is the play-offs [now] and all that matters is winning."
He was chatting after his team's stuttering 26-21 win over a willing Rebels team at Newlands at the weekend.
Bombarded with questions over his team's style of play - the same refrain used by critics all season - and their inability to score four tries, the sharp-witted Stormers mentor went on the offensive.
"It is the best effort by any Stormers side ever, to top the [global] Super Rugby standings and also winning the SA conference for a second consecutive year," Coetzee said with a tinge of sarcasm.
"We are not happy with the performance in this match," he said of the win over the Rebels at the weekend, adding: "We understand that a performance like this won't be good enough in the semifinals - we will work on that."
Then he turned to more important matters - winning the Super Rugby title.
While they will take some confidence into the semifinals, Coetzee felt the nature of their win over the Rebels means their feet will be firmly grounded in the semifinals.
"In hindsight, maybe with this performance we are in a better position ... we have a lot of work to do and as Jean [de Villiers, the captain] said, we would not be happy with this [SA conference] trophy, we would like to stand here in three weeks with the real thing [the Super Rugby trophy].
"If we want to win the real thing, we have a hell-of-a-lot of work to do," Coetzee added.
The Stormers mentor admitted that nerves may have gotten the better of some players, which will have contributed to a scrappy performance at the weekend - in which the Rebels twice came back (from 0-16 to trail 14-16 and 14-23 to trail 21-23), before a late Peter Grant penalty sealed the deal.
"If you look at the Brumbies, they were playing to top the Aussie conference and didn't make it ... so ultimately the pressure got to them," Coetzee pointed out.
"If you look at the Chiefs, they were also playing for first place on the [global] standings and the pressure got to them and they couldn't make it.
"So, irrespective of the performance, this Stormers team has to move on [to first place on the standings].
"[It was] ugly, but a win ... winning is really important."
He admitted that the pressure of the occasion was a factor, but said he was pleased with the manner in which the team stuck to their guns.
"When our backs were against the wall, when they closed the gap to within two points [on two occasions] we could easily go to the next level [lift our game] and score a try.
"I just felt we didn't have the energy and the enthusiasm that we normally have ... almost just wanted to get this one out the way.
"I am sure the approach and attitude will be different come semifinal time."
The Stormers coach again turned on the charm when hounded by the question of his team's inability to score tries, becoming the first team in history to top the Super Rugby standings without scoring a single four-try bonus point.
"That's another record," he quipped, adding: "Fortunately we don't have to try and score four tries, for a bonus point, in the semifinals.
"It is the play-offs and all that matters is winning. As a team we have moved on from those issues.
"This whole season we had to overcome adversity ... many dramatic injuries to top players and even for this match [captain] Jean de Villiers was doubtful - an hour before the game he became nauseous and vomited. It may be have been something he ate.
"But nothing we encountered this season could distract the focus of the team ... the focus we had of winning games."
And he had an answer to those who still doubt his team's ability to win with their defence-based gameplan.
"If you look at the history of the World Cup, last year we had one try scored in the Final ... that was by the great all-out-attacking All Black side ... a team with great attacking skills and [the All Blacks] scored only one try.
"In the play-offs it is about winning - it is knock-out and it is percentages that will be played and we understand that as a team.
"It has always been about winning for us, it has always been about ensuring we can get to the play-offs by winning every game. We know we are defensively a strong side and it is not just our attack and kicking game - all other aspects of our game is built around that and that is no secret. That has worked for us and it would be foolish to change at this stage of the competition."
He added that they do strive to get the right balance between attack and defence, but winning is still top of any team's list - by whatever means.
"If we get the set piece dominance and territory we can launch our attack from there.
"However, it is useless and senseless to attack from deep and turn ball over ... thus giving the opposition an opportunity to play in your half, or get a penalty and go for points.
"Our policy is: 'When it is on, we must make the decision and attack.'
"There is no prescribed blueprint that we go out there not to score tries. If you make the right decision and you take the right option you must finish [off the opportunity]."
The Stormers also don't have any major injury worries.
Star loose forward Siya Kolisi went off as a precaution and Coetzee is confident he will be fine for the semifinals.
Utility back Gio Aplon spent a few minutes in lala-land, after collecting a sharp shoulder on the head from teammate Rynhardt Elstadt and slump to the ground ion an unconscious state. However, Aplon had made a full recovery and completed the match.
Scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage was taken off in order to give replacement No.9 Louis Schrueder a full 40 minutes of rugby, as the latter hasn't play much this season.
By Jan de Koning