CAPE TOWN - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says his team has to “get back and play extremely well” against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein today.
Fleck made a specific reference to his side’s hapless performance against the Sharks just before the international Test break, and added they were focused on getting their pre-Sharks synergy back and getting their combinations right at the Free State Stadium.
The 22-10 defeat to the Sharks at Kings Park Stadium was also mentioned earlier in the week by Fleck, who said the team were eager to hit the reset button this weekend.
“There’s a lot to be gained from our side. We’ve got to get back and play extremely well. We’ve got to get those combinations working again and we’ve got to get that synergy again,” Fleck said.
Fleck also said the team was keen to build momentum in their three remaining games - against the Cheetahs, Sunwolves and Bulls - and added that they would “try things” as they do their final preparations for the play-offs.
“We’ve got to try certain things as well going into the latter part of the competition, and we certainly are excited. We’ve got a lot to gain in the next three games, and it starts with the Cheetahs.”
One of those things Fleck will be trying out will be the exciting Damian Willemse (pictured) at flyhalf, as the youngster, who will make his first start for the Stormers, will get a chance to show he’s way more than just junior star material.
Bok centre Juan de Jongh’s return to Super Rugby will also be something to look out for, while loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff, who was outstanding off the bench for the Boks against France, could make hid first appearance for the Stormers since 2015.
For the Cheetahs, skipper Francois Venter returns to outside centre in the place of William-Small Smith, and Tian Meyer will get a crack at scrumhalf in the place of form No 9 Shaun Venter.
Lock Reniel Hugo will also be making his return from injury.
The Stormers coach would be forgiven for expecting to return to Cape Town with four certain points given the fact that Franco Smith’s men have only managed three wins in 13 games this season, but Fleck said he was expecting a tough encounter in Bloemfontein, where the Stormers have not celebrated many victories in recent years.
“They’re a tough team to play up in Bloem, not many teams have put them away there. And in the past couple of seasons we’ve won one game there, I think that was last season,” he said.
And it’s the Cheetahs’ attacking potency that Fleck was most cautious of.
“They’re going to play with freedom, there’s no pressure on them, which makes them more dangerous because then they just play their natural attacking game. There’s not much that can go wrong for them.”
The Stormers, who could meet either the Chiefs or the Hurricanes in the quarter-finals, technically have more to lose than the Cheetahs today, as Fleck’s team run the risk of injury ahead of the play-offs, or a confidence-knocking defeat.
But all those factors won’t be a focus, says Fleck.
“From our side it’s all about us, we just want to go out there and play our natural game as well and not be affected by any pressures of winning or losing or thinking about injuries.”
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get out there and play some good rugby, which we need to do after that disappointing loss against the Sharks.”
Teams For Bloemfontein:
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Elandre Huggett, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Ruan van Rensburg, 23 William Small-Smith.
Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Dillyn Leyds (vice-captain), 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Rynardt Elstadt, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Frans Malherbe (captain), 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 EW Viljoen, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden.