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Change of culture, mindset at Stormers can’t happen overnight

Opinion
CAPE TOWN – Three harsh defeats and crippling injuries weren’t the only things the Stormers suffered during their three-match tour to New Zealand.

There was the obvious knock to the confidence that they built so brilliantly as they produced superb results and performances at home (and then returned from New Zealand without a single log point).

But coach Robbie Fleck needs to stay strong, and he should stick to his plans - those plans that involve the Stormers growing their attacking game.

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Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

And why shouldn’t they?

During the first six rounds of Super Rugby they looked promising with ball in hand. We saw fewer passes going astray and more offloads and space-creating passes sticking.

We saw them go for the scrum and take their chances instead of just pointing to the posts. We saw them playing with width and beautiful running, and it was even more beautiful when they had the courage to launch moves from their own 22.

Their new approach can’t be blamed for them conceding 50 points two weeks in a row and 40 in their last game on tour. It was their decision-making, their inability to finish and their (at times) haphazard defence that was to blame.

Not the notion that they didn’t choose the boot to exit their own half enough or didn’t rely on their pack of forwards to win the physical battle.

In fact, I’d say that they didn’t always keep the goal in sight.

Against the Sunwolves earlier this season the Stormers made use of one-off runners when they were under pressure from the Japanese, and they kept the game almost exclusively to their forwards at one stage to keep the hosts out. 

It worked, and they managed to score three tries after building a number of phases. It worked, but that was a quick fix to prevent a shock defeat. And there were times on tour where they did the same thing.

Now I’m not saying the Stormers’ forward game should be so neglected that the men up front loiter around and have enough time to Google the strengths and weaknesses of their next opposition.

But if you are serious about growing your game, it is under that kind of pressure you should practice it, and it is under that kind of pressure you will learn to perfect it. And I understand the Stormers wanted the win, after all, the Sunwolves came close to causing an upset last year and they probably wanted to prevent that upset from actually happening.

Kerry Marshall / www.photosport.nz

I know Fleck is serious about changing the Stormers’ game. So now he should just keep at it.

Their tour to New Zealand was anything but pretty. They took beatings that would make even their worst rivals feel for them (not like the Bulls can afford to feel for anyone else but themselves at the moment, we all know how it’s going in Pretoria).

But the most important thing is they learn from it. And the fact that Fleck said they will learn from the tour was great.

The Stormers boss said it best when he said “there’s no better place than in the backyard of the New Zealanders to learn”, and that attitude will get the Stormers far. It might not happen immediately, but you can’t expect a change of mindset or a change of culture to just happen overnight.

Robbie Fleck Photo: Joe Allison / www.photosport.nz

The game of rugby is about allowing your players to express themselves on the field, to trust their natural instincts, and to play without fear of mistakes. That is the path Fleck has taken the Stormers on. I hope his bosses support him all the way. And I hope he has the strength to continue walking the walk.

@WynonaLouw

Cape Times

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