Stormers looking forward to litmus test
Gavin Rich - SupersSport.com
Cape Town - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck and his charges can’t wait for Saturday to arrive so they can get stuck into what they see as an important measurement of how much they have progressed since the low point of the 2016 season.
The Stormers didn’t play against New Zealand opposition last year until the Vodacom Super Rugby quarter-final at Newlands, where they were thumped 60-21 by the Chiefs on a day where, to be brutally frank, the 21 points scored by the Stormers flattered them.
That same Chiefs side has arrived in South Africa to prepare for what will be the Stormers’ first match against Kiwi opposition, and for the Cape side it is more than just another rugby match. Instead it is being seen as a crucial moment in their development as a team as they seek to measure the progress they have made since that forgettable day last July.
Fleck knows his men have improved and that the team has developed since then, and last week’s thumping 53-10 win over the Toyota Cheetahs confirmed the steady upward curve that they have embarked on in terms of their performance graph. But he also knows that the Chiefs represent a different level of competition to the other South African teams and that this is the true litmus test of where the Stormers are.
“This is our first game against a New Zealand team and this is our chance to see how far we have progressed as a group,” said Fleck.
“We can see improvements from last year, but this is the real test. This is the team that put us to the sword last year. So there is big motivation for this game and I hope that there will be a full house at Newlands for what I think will be a cracking game of rugby. I think regardless of whether you are a Stormers or Chiefs supporter, Newlands will be a good place to be on Saturday evening.
“For us what is really important is that whatever the result, we need to show that we are moving forwards and upwards. If we can do that, then we will be happy.”
Fleck is under no illusions as to the magnitude of the challenge his men face.
“The Chiefs under Dave Rennie haven’t changed much in the last four years and over the period since they won the Super Rugby title,” said the Stormers coach.
“They are physical and play with extreme intensity and tempo, which was what caught us out last year. When we tried to fight back in that quarterfinal they just lifted the tempo further. They are tactically smart and pride themselves on their aggression. We will certainly have to take a step up. We haven’t faced a team as good as them this year and this is a great chance for us to see how farr we have come.”
Fleck said that the fact that injuries to Lions players had meant Stormers players were seconded to help the national squad training camp in Stellenbosch was far from ideal, but at least the geography worked in his team’s favour. As the camp was held so close to the Stormers’ training base in Parow, all the players in the national training squad were at Tuesday afternoon’s practice session.
“We have known about the Bok camp for a long time, so we had to plan accordingly. It didn’t help that we had to release players because of Lions players being injured, but we always want to help out Allister and the Boks and it was good that the guys trained hard and well.
“What was important though was that our Boks came back this afternoon to help us out. It was very important that we were able to get in one session as this game is a big one for us.”
The only player who was part of the squad that beat the Cheetahs who will not be available for the Chiefs game is scrumhalf Jano Vermaak, who left the field concussed early in the match. The Stormers have welcomed back tighthead prop Wilco Louw to the selection mix after he missed the Cheetahs game.
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