Robbie Fleck says Saturday’s clash against the Waratahs will provide another important gauge of their standing in the Super Rugby competition, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Stormers are determined to make the most of a beneficial schedule this season. Having been handed a favourable draw, the Cape-based side has played five of their first eight games at Newlands, while enjoying a timely bye that fell more or less in the middle of that match sequence.
In addition, the Stormers have been drawn in the Africa 1 conference that sees them facing Australian teams this season. As evidenced by the fact that four out of the top five teams in the Australasian group are from New Zealand, the Stormers – through no fault of their own – have had the advantage of avoiding the might of the front-running New Zealand teams.
And while the Stormers have done well to secure important wins over the likes of the Bulls and Brumbies, they will embrace another opportunity to test themselves against a well-rounded side like the Waratahs.
Although the Tahs have endured an up-and-down start to the season, the Aussie side comes to Newlands on the back of an impressive 49-13 victory over the Force, and are the type of team that will test the Stormers in the physical exchanges.
At a press conference at Newlands on Thursday, Fleck said it was a challenge they were looking forward to facing.
‘The Lions provided a similar challenge for us in terms of seeing where we really are, as it was with the Brumbies. It’s against big teams like this that you get to see how far you’ve grown as a team and where we are with regard to the rest of the competition. The Waratahs have found a bit of form recently after a slow start, they’re a quality team and I always thought it was only going to be a matter of time before they found a bit of rhythm again.
‘They’re looking ominous now, they have some big physical players and a lot of Wallabies along with some youngsters. It will be a physical challenge, but we’ve also got some players back [in Juan de Jongh and Frans Malherbe] and we’re slowly getting towards our preferred 23. I think we’re also finding some momentum now.’
Last weekend, the Stormers bounced back from their loss against the Lions to overcome a gallant Reds side and maintain their position at the top of the South African group with six wins from eight games.
Fleck said he was satisfied with what he had seen from the side during the first half of the season, but admitted they were still seeking improvements.
‘I’m happy with our progress thus far. There have been glimpses of the fearless rugby we’re trying to adopt, but there have been moments where we’ve let ourselves down. However, there are signs of progression along the path we’ve chosen. We’ve got some way to go in terms of the campaign and our own growth, but we’re a team playing a brand of rugby that we set out to play. Having said that, we’re certainly not the finished product yet.’
Last year, the Stormers secured an impressive win over the Waratahs in Sydney, with the foundation for that victory laid on the grounds of a high-percentage approach that was complemented by a clinical defensive and kicking game.
Fleck said they would take cognisance of the rewards that approach reaped, although he also highlighted the changes to the Stormers’ style of play that they were determined to continue evolving this year.
‘I think the Waratahs still have a culture of wanting to keep the ball in hand, they have some good runners out wide and some big forwards. They base their game on momentum, and so we will need to be very good defensively once again. But we are looking to play a bit more with ball in hand and we do need to take the opportunities when they arise.’
Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix