Johannesburg - One person in the Cape who is hoping that the Bulls pitch for their final Super Rugby match of a troubled season is Stormers coach Robbie Fleck.
According to the SuperSport website, the traditional rivals from north and south face off at Loftus this coming week that will have no impact on the finishing order in Africa Conference 1 or the Stormers’ chances of contesting a home quarterfinal against a New Zealand team the following week. That is already set in stone, with just the identity of the Kiwi side still to be established for the 22 July match at Newlands.
But what Fleck would like in what he considers his team’s full dress-rehearsal for the first playoff game is a strong Bulls challenge. After their excellent win over the Cell C Sharks the week before, it looked like the Bulls just never pitched in the first half against the Southern Kings and ended up going down narrowly in one of the season’s shock results.
Fleck wants the Bulls to be as good as they possibly be as he wants a really tough game going into the build-up week to the play-offs, and of course he is wise enough to expect it. The Bulls will bring a different motivation level to their clash with their fiercest rivals and the team they most enjoy beating, and Fleck knows it.
“It will be a different Bulls team that plays against the Stormers, and we know that,” said Fleck after a 52-15 win over the Sunwolves that he was a long way short of being satisfied with.
“We are expecting the Bulls to be really up for the game, and we hope that will be the case. A really tough game is what we need and what we are looking for at this point. I know the Bulls will be up for the challenge next week, and we will also be better next week.”
Although the Stormers scored seven tries and banked a try scoring bonus point against a Sunwolves team that was several levels better than the one that got thumped by the Emirates Lions the previous week, Fleck was a frustrated man after the penultimate round robin fixture.
“That was not a good performance, particularly not the first half, which was way too stop and start and frustrated us,” said Fleck.
“We were looking for continuity and momentum but every time they turned the ball over it seemed we turned it over. We could not build phases like we wanted to. Credit to the Sunwolves, who succeeded in getting in between us, but we got it all wrong. We had a good chat at halftime and tightened up after that. I thought we were a bit better in the second half.”
Stormers skipper Siya Kolisi shared Fleck’s frustration.
“The plan was to dominate through the middle,” said the Springbok flanker.
“We wanted to go through the middle and then play it from there, but we kept offloading too early. We couldn’t get momentum and made way too many mistakes. We are not focussing too much on the results at the moment, but on building momentum and getting our game right, and the way we started this game was not good enough. We know we can’t play like this in the play-offs.”
The Stormers lost four players to either injury or suspension after the win over the Cheetahs the previous week and there were too late withdrawals on the day of the game that didn’t help Fleck.
“It wasn’t an easy week in terms of injuries, and we did have last minute withdrawals that did not help us. Frans Malherbe didn’t train on Friday and Eben Etzebeth rocked up today (Saturday) with flu symptoms. We felt it was in the best interests of the players not to play. That disrupted us as both players are leaders, and Eben is the vice-captain and makes a lot of the calls.”
Fleck also gave credit to the Sunwolves, who were well in the game at halftime and were determined to atone for last week’s big defeat in Johannesburg.
“You have to give credit to the Sunwolves. They made nine changes and suffered a big loss last week and they were determined not to let it happen again. They frustrated us by getting in between us. On turn over ball we got a few lucky breaks and got a few tries in that way, but otherwise it not the type of game we wanted. We wanted to build phases on attack and that just didn’t happen.
“But I thought there was a good step up when the bench came on. We stepped up defensively and physically when JD Schickerling and Steven Kitshoff were on. It didn’t help us that there were so many mistakes in that first half but we stuck to the plan better after halftime.”
What will have had Fleck scratching his head was how slow his team appear to be in absorbing the lesson of what is required against the Sunwolves. They forced the play in the first half just as they did in the 19-all draw in Singapore last year and in the close game in Singapore a few months ago. The type of rugby the Stormers played plays into the Japanese team’s hands and they are one franchise that doesn’t appear to have fully absorbed the lesson that drummed out to South African rugby at Brighton in the 2015 World Cup.
Fleck did have a few things to be pleased about though, one of them being another solid showing from flyhalf newcomer Damian Willemse, who this time also took the place-kicking and landed four out of six attempts. He scored another good try to go with the one he scored against the Cheetahs in his first start the previous week.
Fullback Dillyn Leyds also had an excellent game on attack and should have finished with a hattrick of tries had he not passed to Cheslin Kolbe when all he had to do was dot down for the Stormers’ seventh try on the hooter.
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