Johannesburg - A streamlined Super Rugby competition begins on Saturday, armed with 15 teams, amendments to the rules of the game and four South African sides.
Their coaches tell Simnikiwe Xabanisa about what they are expecting.
. What are your thoughts on the tournament going back to 15 teams, and are you happy with the format?
. How much of an impact do you expect the extra travel to have on your results?
. Given that they have already been trialled at Currie Cup level, do you think players still need time to adjust to the new law amendments?
. Briefly tell us about your team’spreparations and expectations for the tournament.
Robbie Fleck (Stormers)
“We’re certainly happy we’re going back to a strength versus strength competition, even though we’re still in groups. We get to play everyone barring one Australian side, but there are no easy games, even though some are complaining that the Sunwolves and the Jaguares are still there. I think both will be better this year.
In the old days, we used to go to New Zealand and Australia for the full four weeks, and we actually enjoyed it because we found our groove as we got used to the environment over the four weeks.
The amendments won’t affect us too much because 90% of our side played in the Currie Cup and most of the adjustment is in the breakdown, which is good for the game. I think the team will adjust pretty well.
The preparations have been good, we brought in a few new training techniques and the boys have worked hard. The game is getting quicker and quicker, and the players need to be better conditioned because the ball is in play for 48 minutes and is changing year on year. There has been more rugby-specific training. Gone are the days of running the full length of the field. In terms of our expectations, last year was year one for us – my first as a head coach. We implemented certain things and we felt we succeeded in becoming a more attacking team than the year before. But we didn’t tour well, so we’re going to have to change that. We want to build on those things.”
Swys de Bruin (Golden Lions)
“We’re happy with the system, it looks very fair to all teams. It’s definitely more strength versus strength, and you have to fight more to win. No disrespect to anyone, but, in the past, some of the games you knew you would win.
Last year, we toured for three weeks and four the year before. The extra week makes it difficult, so it will be tougher this year. But we like it tough, so it’ll be no problem for us.
The laws aren’t a problem whatsoever because they were trialled in the Currie Cup. The only thing with the law amendments is the referees are very good at policing them at first, then they slack off. The important thing for us is to adjust to the policing of what we call buzzwords at the beginning of the season.
Preparation-wise, it hasn’t been easy. Two to three years ago, we had all our players here for preseason. Now we had a bunch of them in Japan, Europe or injured. So player management is going to be tough. When they gave me the job, I knew it was going to be a challenge, but all my life I’ve loved challenges. We’ve lost Faf de Klerk, Ruan Ackermann and Akker van der Merwe, so it’ll be tough. But we’ve got a good medical team and good coaches, so we won’t look too far ahead.”
John Mitchell (Bulls)
“It doesn’t really make a difference to us, we’re just keen to get out there and start playing some rugby. However, it is good to be playing in a tournament with the strongest teams and to be able to measure ourselves against them.
I think we’re rather fortunate because we’ve got three weeks away in Australasia early in the season, a trip to Argentina and then to Singapore. We’ve also got a few Friday games, which effectively help us manage shorter weeks. Ultimately, we make our own plans and we need to make it work. It also helps to treat and manage each week separately.
It’s extremely important to be aware of them and embrace them, without over-elaborating on it too much. The players will have to naturally adjust and embrace it.
Preseason preparations are about getting the athletes healthy and robust. We’re now in a phase of creating a team culture, and learning from our trial situations and games. This is a period of improving ourselves and getting better every day, while trying to become consistent in our efforts.”
Robert du Preez (Sharks)
“We have no issues with the tournament format and we welcome the opportunity to play both Australia and New Zealand teams. This format allows teams to test themselves against the best of the best in the southern hemisphere.
I don’t view the extra travel as a negative. We quite like the fact that we will be on tour for four weeks. Tours give teams the opportunity to bond and to build team culture, which adds to the team spirit and vibe in the camp.
We’ve already adapted to the law changes in Currie Cup. We do not see these changes having a big impact on our game plan.
We’ve had a great preseason and the commitment and energy that the players and coaching staff brought to each session was fantastic.
Our focus was on our conditioning, improving our skills and our functional play. The two warm-up matches we had gave us an opportunity to see where we were in terms of our conditioning and the progress we’ve made. Combinations were tested and everyone in the squad got game time. The team has set high standards during the preseason and the warm-up matches. We want to continue to build on this and we believe that we have the squad depth to be competitive.”