Stormers to erase Chiefs horror of 2016?
Cape Town - In the 21 Super Rugby matches that Robbie Fleck has been head coach of the Stormers, he has met New Zealand opposition just once.
That came in the quarter-finals of last year's competition when the Stormers, having cruised through their conference, secured the right to host a playoff at Newlands.
Their opposition came in the form of the Chiefs, and the result was catastrophic.
The Stormers were smashed 60-21 in front of their home crowd and, just like that, their tournament was over.
Now, more than eight months later, Fleck and his charges have a chance to put that right.
The Chiefs are in town once again and while the stakes are not as high this time around, the Stormers will want to prove to themselves and the rugby public that they have closed the gap between themselves and the Kiwi franchises.
It is the first of five group stage fixtures against New Zealand opposition for the Stormers this year, and while the memories of that drubbing at Newlands might still come to mind, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has put that game to bed.
He called it their "best performance" of last year, and he is expecting a much greater challenge this time around.
"They’ll be really confident. They’ve played some really
good footy," Rennie told media in Cape Town on Wednesday.
"Maybe we surprised them a bit last year but I’m pretty confident
we won’t be able to do that this time.
"We’ve had a good couple of days here and
we’ve got clarity on how we need to play, but it’s going to be a big step up on
our performance over the last couple of weeks."
Both sides go into this fixture having played five, won five. The Chiefs, though, have had to play against Kiwi opposition three times already while this will undoubtedly be the biggest test of the Stormers' season so far.
Rennie has been impressed by what he has seen from Fleck's men so far, having noticed their improved off-load game as well as their conditioning.
"They seem pretty fit because they’re playing the type of
game where they keep the ball alive and score some outstanding length of the
field tries," said Rennie.
"There’s no doubt that they’re playing a bit of footy and they seem
pretty well conditioned.
"The Stormers have always been a highly skilled team, when
Allister was coaching here. For a lot of years they’ve been the benchmark of
South Africa’s Super teams so we’re not surprised by what we’re seeing."
But it is not only with ball in hand that the Stormers have impressed Rennie, and he says their pack has been instrumental in their success so far this season.
"They’ve got an outstanding pack. The scrum has been good
and they’ve got a pretty sharp lineout … we’ll have to be good in those areas," he said.
"They’re certainly the form team in their pool and we
respect them and prepare accordingly."
Saturday's match kicks off at 17:15.