Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says his side’s 19-17 victory over the Lions showed they can beat the stronger Vodacom Super Rugby teams. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Stormers fought back from a 14-6 half-time deficit, with young replacement scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies scoring a converted try five minutes after the hooter, to claim their first victory over the Lions in four years.
The Stormers, like in their 40-3 loss to the Vodacom Bulls last weekend, had a particularly poor start to the match, with their discipline costing them in promising positions.
‘When you look at the stats and you have 25% possession, 25% territory, nine penalties and eight turnovers against you, you are staring at another poor performance,’ Fleck said. ‘I felt Siya [Kolisi] was smart in his decisions, that when we did get the penalties, just to stay in the game he went for the points.
‘When we were playing poorly like that at Loftus, with hindsight I should have got a message to Siya to say go for the points because we got a few penalties against the Bulls. At least we stayed in the contest and we weren’t playing great.
‘Credit to the Lions, I thought tactically they were pretty good in that first half. They were putting us under pressure.
‘In the last 10 minutes or so of that first half, we started to fight back. We had a great maul, we had a penalty advantage from that and then a crazy penalty against us for side entry. I felt our maul was working really well. We felt we could have got a try in that first half.
‘When we went into the shed there was definitely belief because of that last 10 minutes or so. We knew we hadn’t played well and couldn’t get our game going because we conceded those turnovers. There was still a lot of belief at half-time. The second half really started to go in our favour.’
Kolisi said their eagerness to correct their poor performance against the Bulls contributed to their poor start at Newlands.
‘We were over eager and wanted to get into the game as soon as possible because the week before was really tough. We couldn’t win our own ball and were just chasing the game the whole time. Today we just wanted to get stuck in which caused part of the discipline problems. In the second half, we came together and decided to stay off the rucks and dominate the tackles.
‘It was a tough week for us,’ the Stormers captain added. ‘What I enjoyed is that everybody took ownership. We looked at ourselves and were honest. We just had to believe. We had to make sure we were on-point today. The character that we showed, just to show what we mean to one another, was what we were going for in the second half.’
Fleck said he was particularly impressed with the way his charges managed to control their emotions to continue to make good decisions on the field.
‘That was immense character but we still had to play and retain possession. There had to be leadership on the field to make the right decision to go back for the scrum and have a pop there. The boys were really on-point then.
‘It was a completely different team in those last 15 minutes when there was immense pressure to win. I felt they made the right decisions in everything they did. The immense character from the group to keep fighting, while still making the right decisions and being calm and collected, shows that we can, when we are on the same page, beat some of the better teams. It was emotional in the shed afterwards and rightly so.’
The Stormers were given a boost in the second half with the return from injury of Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth, who, despite making playing his first Super Rugby minutes in two years, took to the field with aplomb.
‘Not just Eben, but also Frans Malherbe, who hasn’t had one second of rugby this year, played well in that first half,’ Fleck said. ‘Eben brought that impact and Scarra [Ntubeni] had a good impact too … guys who have been in our system for a while. I just felt it was a different team when we started to get things together.
‘When he [Etzebeth] came on, he certainly is a presence and it is awesome to see a guy who hasn’t played for two years for the Stormers to come on and play like he did. He cares and that was important. With the week we had, people were going to be tested if they cared about the Stormers or not and I think the group showed that today.’
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix