CAPE TOWN – Last week was a good one for the Stormers, a very good one indeed. But coach Robbie Fleck knows all too well that their fixture against the Lions on Saturday is no way a step down from their one against the Chiefs last week.
We all know how brilliant the Stormers were against the Kiwis at Newlands. They played at a sky-high tempo, their attacking game was on point and everything (or just about everything) seemed to stick. And their defence, especially their scramble defence, was also tops.
But on Saturday it’s the Lions, and while Fleck emphasised the opposition’s attacking potency, he also added that he was confident in his team’s much-improved conditioning and their ability to put up an 80-minute performance.
“It’s the same thing we’re facing with the Lions. I think they scored the most tries in the competition last year, and they were the best attacking side. They also made the most line-breaks. So they’re going to ask lots of questions of us defensively, and in those last 10 or 20 minutes, they’ll come at us.
"I’m quite comfortable with where we are in terms of our conditioning and in terms of our intensity. We have to take that forward from last week,” Fleck said.
A massive goal for Fleck and Co is of course to keep improving their game, and the Stormers chief praised the Lions for doing just that consistently last year.
“If we want to beat the Lions, we have to play at the tempo that we did last week, if not more. The Lions were able to do that week-in and week-out against Kiwi opposition last year," Fleck continued.
"And that was their strength, they just kept improving as the competition went on,” he said.
“We know what’s coming, we’re going to have to fight hard for this one again. The message to the team was last week can’t be a one-off. We’re growing, and if we want to show exceptional growth, we’ve got to put in back-to-back performances.”
In the build-up to this massive South African derby, Johan Ackermann’s side seemed very keen on calling themselves the underdogs.
And while Fleck disputed that, he admitted “the fact we’re playing at home and the form that we’ve shown does give us some confidence”.
Fleck, who is set on perfecting his team’s attacking approach, had a few words of praise for the Lions' coaching staff, whom he said have done great things for not only Lions rugby, but also South African rugby.
There are sure to be a few monstrous match-ups in Cape Town today.
While the Stormers’ Dillyn Leyds has been the social media king thanks to that impressive, try-creating offload to SP Marais against the Chiefs, the utility back, who has found himself on the wing in recent weeks, is far from the only (attacking) dangerman the hosts boast.
At fullback there’s Marais, who has been scintillating for the Stormers until now, while Fleck can also puff out his chest in pride when it comes to his centre pairing of Dan du Plessis and EW Viljoen.
And then, of course, there are halfbacks Robert du Preez and Jano Vermaak, who will look to build on their fine play.
Upfront, the Stormers lineout ammunition is also back to full strength with Springbok locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit returning to the starting XV.
Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Siya Kolisi and Nizaam Carr will run on together for the first time this season. They are a hugely exciting loose trio, and of course their selection is another vibrantly positive statement in terms of transforming the game.
The Lions backline is looking strong yet again, and the focus will surely be on flyhalf Elton Jantjies, the centre pairing of Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Lionel Mapoe, and the exciting youngster Madosh Tambwe, as well as Courtnall Skosan out wide.
Fullback Andries Coetzee, whose top form earned him a call-up to the second Springbok training camp in Stellenbosch recently, will also be a big threat at the back.
And looking forward to the match, Fleck added: “It’s a South African derby, with ourselves against arguably the best team in South Africa. I think it’s going to be an exciting game of rugby.”
Teams For Newlands
Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Bench: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Johan du Toit, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Bench: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Referee: Jaco Peyper. Kickoff: 5:15pm.