CAPE TOWN - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck was “immensely proud” of his team’s stunning effort to beat the Chiefs 34-26 at Newlands on Saturday. And he should be.
The Stormers were brilliant. They stayed true to their new attacking approach and produced a number of superb touches throughout the spectacle. In the build-up to the match, Fleck said that they were going into the clash to “win it by tries”, and they did exactly that as they outscored the Kiwis four tries to three to secure their sixth consecutive victory.
It was always going to be a good one - the Stormers were keen to measure their progress since embarking on an attacking path against one of the bests in the rugby business, they wanted to make up for that heavy 60-21 defeat to the Chiefs during last year’s quarter-final at Newlands.
“It’s been a long journey since the quarter-final. I’m just immensely proud of the boys for the way they played. It wasn’t always in our favour. The Chiefs had us under the pump for many parts of the game, but the things that we had worked on and identified, it all came through,” Fleck said.
Fleck also praised his team for their defensive effort, while he had kind words for the Chiefs and, of course, the first Chiefs try by winger Toni Pulu.
That try was something else, it was outstanding even by New Zealand’s standards. Firecracker fullback Damian McKenzie created magic in his own 22 to get the Chiefs out of their red zone, and thereafter the ball went through various hands that showed off with fine offloads, pop passes and a basketball-like pass (while making it look just too easy) before Pulu rounded off the Chiefs’ fantastic ability to keep the ball alive to score.
“Credit to both sides, the Chiefs are an outstanding team. You can’t defend something like that,” Fleck said.
Meanwhile, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie also said that the Stormers have come a long way since that quarter-final beating.
“It was a hell of a spectacle. They certainly played their part in a free-flowing game, and I think we did too. It was just a lack of effort by us, in the end the Stormers were too good,” Rennie said.
“I reckon they’ve learnt a lot from last year. They’ve got better systems and they’re fitter. They work hard for each other and they showed a lot of character.”
On Pulu’s try, Rennie said: “I even got out of my chair and that normally takes something special. It was phenomenal. We’ve talked a lot about our support play and second touches, and there’s a number of guys who touched the ball multiple times. We love seeing that, that’s the way we train. It’s great to put it out on the park.”
The Stormers now move onto their next big challenge against the Lions. And given the fact the Johannesburg-based team play the same kind of rugby as the New Zealanders, Fleck said his team should enjoy their victory over the Chiefs, but added that they can’t remain on cloud nine for too long.
“The Lions present exactly the same dangers as the Chiefs pose. So it’s back to square one on Monday.”
“We need to enjoy tonight, we have to, we haven’t beaten a New Zealand side in some time. But we’ve got to put good plans in place because the Lions, when they’re on their game, are one of the best sides in the competition,” Fleck said.
The Stormers also looked better conditioned than they did last year, and Fleck added that the ability to still play your game even when fatigued is something that not only the Stormers, but the whole of South African rugby will have to master.
“I do think that South Africans are fit, but we just have to learn to play when we’re extremely tired and to stay in the game. And that’s where they (New Zealanders) take it to a new level. They still attack and play when they’re tired and they get through those little half gaps.”
“If we want to do well in this competition we’re going to have to play like this every week.”