Robbie Fleck is backing his Stormers side to overcome the Chiefs’ breakdown tactics and score more tries than the New Zealand side at Newlands on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
How much respect should the Stormers show the Chiefs this Saturday? The teams last met at Newlands in the 2016 quarter-final. The Chiefs were forced to travel extensively in the buildup to that playoff, yet still managed to produce a powerful performance which yielded an emphatic 60-21 win.
Has a lot changed since then? The Stormers have played a more attacking game in 2017, scoring 29 tries in a campaign that’s witnessed five consecutive wins. However, the Chiefs have managed to beat three New Zealand opponents en route to an identical win-record, and look to be the early favourites for the Super Rugby title.
The Chiefs have struck the best balance between attack and defence to date. The men from Hamilton have averaged nearly four tries scored per match. A log points tally of 24 out of a possible 25 tells a story of their attacking efficiency.
What’s more, no team has conceded fewer tries than the Chiefs (six) after six rounds.
So do the Stormers have any right to feel confident ahead of the clash on Saturday? Both the coach and captain believe so. On Thursday, coach Robbie Fleck made a bold statement: The Stormers have what it takes to score more tries than the much-fancied Chiefs.
‘They’re an aggressive defensive side that comes off the line hard. They don’t mind giving away penalties, especially in their own 22. In fact, 30% of the penalties they’ve conceded on defence have been in this area,’ Fleck said.
‘What that suggests is that they are a team that doesn’t mind giving away three points when they are down in their own 22. But we have to be better than that on Saturday. I would say that we have to score more tries than them if we want to beat them. That has to be the mindset. If that means that we have to push the offloads and try things to do so, then so be it.’
Siya Kolisi explained that the management of the breakdown, and what the Stormers believe to be questionable Chiefs tactics, will be key in this regard.
‘Look, we’ve studied the clips. We know what they do. We know what’s coming. Sometimes the referee can’t see that, so we just need to make sure that we manage that and adapt. As the coach says, we will be looking to get more than three points when we are down in that part of the field.’
Fleck acknowledged the attacking threat of the Chiefs, as well as the strength of their kicking game. The Chiefs certainly won’t be short of tactical kicking options given that Tawera Kerr Barlow is starting at No 9, Aaron Cruden at 10, Stephen Donald at 12, James Lowe at 11 and Damian McKenzie at 15.
The Chiefs are currently ranked sixth for kicks from hand. The visitors may look to kick in behind the Stormers defence – which hasn’t been great in 2017 – and then play off the hosts’ mistakes.
‘They’re a tactically smart team that gets good distance on their kicks,’ said Fleck. ‘There should be a bit of work for our back three to do initially. Having said that, the Chiefs are the type of side that can play any game. We saw that when they beat the Hurricanes in the wet earlier in the season.
‘Donald was successful against us in last year’s quarter-final. Cruden and McKenzie can kick with either foot. Those players and even a guy like Lowe can put you under pressure with their kicking game.’
That said, the Stormers coach maintains that his side won’t go into their shells in the face of an aerial bombardment. Fleck also believes that the hosts cannot afford to defend any sort of lead.
‘We’ve embarked on a process this season, and we are enjoying ourselves,’ he said. ‘This is a great opportunity to test ourselves against the best. They will come into this game with tactical plans, and we will have to adapt. It’s going to be interesting to see how the guys manage that.’
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