DHL Stormers coach Robbie Fleck is seeing Friday night’s clash with the Blues at Newlands as an opportunity to make a statement about lessons learnt and to rediscover the mojo that has been lost during a four match unbeaten run.
NEWLANDS – The Stormers had six wins from six starts when they went into their Easter Saturday clash with the Emirates Lions. Defeat in that game dented their confidence ahead of a three match tour of New Zealand that from a results and tries conceded perspective was a disaster. They conceded a half century of points in two matches and 40 in another and 24 tries across three games – an average of eight a match.
Fleck admits that the number of tries given away was a massive concern, and defence is something that the team has been working hard at for three weeks.
“We started really focussing on our defence in the last week of the tour and then during the bye week and now into this week building up to the match against the Blues,” said Fleck.
“We know it is a problem area but at the same time we know that defence is not something that can be worked on in isolation. It is something that fits into the game you play, and that is what we need to get right. We can’t go back to the drift defence we employed a couple of years ago because that would not fit into the attacking game we want to play.
“As I said earlier this week and a couple of times on tour, what we need to do is up our concentration and ability to eliminate mistakes while playing a quick paced game. There is nothing wrong with our conditioning. That is something that we’ve improved a lot. What we need to do is get to the Kiwi level of being able to keep mistakes to a minimum while operating at high pace across 80 minutes.”
Fleck says there were six tries conceded on tour that were effectively 14 point swings, and that made a big difference to the end results.
“We made mistakes that punished us. I don’t believe we are really that far away from being able to compete with the New Zealand teams. They are ahead of us at the moment, and I really believe they have stepped up further from last year, but there are little things that we need to get right that will make a big difference.”
One of the problem areas for the Stormers on tour was that they struggled to come to terms with the linespeed of the Crusaders, Hurricanes and Highlanders defensive systems. He felt they were getting it right in the last game against the Hurricanes, and could well have won that game with a bit of luck.
The Blues don’t employ linespeed like the other New Zealand teams do so it could be a bit easier for the Stormers on Friday. The Blues do tend to blow hot and cold, and making any kind of prediction for a game they are involved in is not easy as a result. However, they have scored two good away wins in recent weeks against the Brumbies and the Waratahs, and have picked up the confidence to win away from home.
“The Blues have only lost to fellow New Zealand teams this season, they are unbeaten against other opposition, and we know that the Kiwi conference is a level above the rest,” said Fleck.
“They have a lot of threats across their team. They have big runners at the back and a powerful midfield that includes Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala. It is going to be a big test for our guys.”
Fleck has selected Kiwi Shaun Treeby at inside centre because he is used to employing linespeed and playing against linespeed, and then there is the big ball carrier, Damian de Allende, who is poised to come into the game off the bench later in the game after being out since being injured in the first match against the Bulls.
What is imperative for Fleck is that the Stormers use the Blues game to rediscover the confidence and the courage that they played with in their unbeaten run of six games that they started the season with.
“There were things we did well during that six game sequence that we stopped doing well when we were on tour and we need to get that back,” said the coach.
“It was a tough tour but when we went through the videos of the games afterwards we could see where we went wrong and what needs to be put right. I felt we made a big step up against the Hurricanes in our last match and now would like to see the guys carry that on against the Blues.
“There were things, such as the maul and the scrum, that weren’t working before the tour but which were fixed on tour. I thought our lineout work improved tremendously too. What I would like to see now is for the guys to rediscover the confidence to play like they did earlier in the season. We want to play with courage. We want to find our mojo again and find that confidence again.”