Robbie Fleck says the Stormers’ dominant performance at the set pieces and on defence bodes well for the rest of the season. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Mission accomplished. The Stormers have come through their first match of the season – a north-south derby, no less – with five log points. The Cape side beat the Bulls 33-9 at Newlands on Saturday, and claimed a bonus point for scoring three more tries than their opponents.
Afterwards, both coaches said that the set-piece battle influenced the result. The Stormers were particularly good at the lineout, both on attack and defence. By contrast, the Bulls grew worse as the contest progressed. In the dying minutes, the Stormers scored their third try (the bonus-point try) via the lineout maul.
‘That was always going to be the biggest test,’ said Bulls coach Nollis Marais. ‘[Stormers locks] Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit showed their class in this match. Our young and inexperienced players battled to respond.’
Bulls skipper Adriaan Strauss lamented the missed opportunities by the visitors. Early in the second half, the Bulls enjoyed set-piece possession 5m out from the tryline. The Stormers, through Etzebeth, managed to win the lineout and clear their lines.
‘Those Stormers players contested well,’ said Strauss. ‘They were also very good at the scrum in the second half. We couldn’t secure possession at the set pieces. As a result, we couldn’t build momentum. It was very frustrating.’
Fleck was anything but frustrated in the wake of the big win, his first as Stormers coach.
‘Our tight five did exceptionally well to lay the platform,’ he said. ‘And it wasn’t just the guys who started, but the players who came off the bench in the second half. Eben and Pieter-Steph were very physical and aggressive. Even a youngster like [lock] JD Schickerling impressed me with his play in that last lineout drive.
'Frans Malherbe made some good decisions at scrum time later in the game. That is what we want to see more of, contesting across every facet. Perhaps we didn't do enough of that in past seasons.
‘We scored three tries, but the bonus point was earned by our defence,’ Fleck continued. ‘We knew they would come at us, and we handled that challenge well. This is a good starting point.’
The Stormers will play the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein next week. The Bulls will look to bounce back when they host the Rebels in Pretoria.
The Bulls and Stormers will meet again on 21 May for the next north-south derby. That game may decide who finishes at the top of the Africa 1 conference, and ultimately who earns a home play-off.
Marais admitted that the Bulls have a lot of work to do before the next game against the Stormers.
‘We have a young side and will continue to back these players. Hopefully we will have improved by then,’ he said.
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