CAPE TOWN – “If they took a hammering like this, the Stormers of old would have buckled up and become conservative, but we’re not going to do that.”
Those were the words of a determined Robbie Fleck when asked by the Cape Town media if his team was going to swap their attacking approach for a "safer" one of ahead of game against the Hurricanes on Friday.
The Stormers, who conceded 50 points two weeks in a row against the Crusaders (57-24) in Christchurch and the Highlanders (57-14) in Dunedin, will be looking to bounce back and get their first and only win against the defending Super Rugby champions in the last match of their three-match tour to New Zealand.
It obviously hasn’t gone well for Fleck’s team over the past two weeks, but the Stormers coach showed good belief in his team’s ability to keep ball in hand, and they justified his trust in the new approach with impressive performances against the Bulls, the Jaguares, the Kings, the Cheetahs, and the Chiefs, and even in their defeat to the Lions.
And now Fleck wants them to perform like they did in those first six weeks when they play in Wellington in Round 11.
“Our approach will be the same. We’ve been playing with courage and we certainly haven’t changed and we won’t change. We’re not going to do that. We want to improve as a team,” Fleck said.
“We need to play the way we played in the opening six matches. Our philosophy is not going to change. We’re going to keep trying to score tries and put some serious pressure on the opposition.”
Fleck also said that the match against the Hurricanes will provide the Stormers’ youngsters with some good experience, and he made a special mention of exciting prospect Damian Willemse, who will join the team in New Zealand, and outside centre EW Viljoen.
“With youngsters Damian and EW or whoever it is, we certainly won’t bottle them.
“There’s no better place to learn to play rugby than in the backyard of the likes of the Crusaders, the Highlanders and the Hurricanes.
"It’s a good challenge for them and we certainly are excited,” he said.
Against the Highlanders, the Stormers looked good in the first few minutes, and even when things started unravelling badly for them, they made it into opposition 22 a number of times throughout the encounter.
But it was their failure to finish that resulted in wasted scoring opportunities for them, while their defence, especially their one-on-one tackles, also let them down.
The Highlanders’ line speed also proved very effective as it not only kept the Stormers out at times, but it also piled the pressure on the visitors, who became guilty of not looking after the ball under all that pressure.
And again, Fleck made it clear that their bad experiences in Kiwi land won’t stop them from working on their new game.
“We applied good pressure early in the game. We were still fighting hard around the 20 or 25 minute mark. I think the work-on for us this week is the mistakes.
"In the six previous weeks when we made mistakes we were able to cover up it up, but the Highlanders were good enough to expose those mistakes,” Fleck explained.
“If you try and exit your own half or when you’re attacking...they’re brutal here. If you cough up possession or you make one bad decision defensively or give a bad kick, these teams expose you.”
“There were times where we were literally a pass away from scoring but we coughed up possession. It’s been tough for the guys to accept it because of our philosophy – we want to play more rugby.”
And while Fleck’s mental approach is a positive one – and one very needed in South African rugby – the team also had to deal with something as negative as injuries again as a number of players were added to the Stormers’ ever-growing casualty list following the defeat.
Prop JC Janse van Rensburg (torn bicep, 4-6 weeks), locks Eben Etzebeth (calf) and Pieter-Steph du Toit (knee) and flyhalf Kurt Coleman (torn deltoid ligament in ankle) have all returned home, while prop Frans Malherbe will not be available for selection this week due to the Springbok management plan..
In some good news, Fleck confirmed that loose forward and skipper Siya Kolisi was responding well to treatment for his shoulder injury suffered during the match.
The Cape side will also be boosted by the return of centre Juan de Jongh, loose forward Rynhardt Elstadt, prop Caylib Oostuizen and Willemse.
With playing a new game, any team is bound to hit a few rough patches as they grow, so Fleck hopes that the Stormers learn from their defeats and return home a “better team”.
“The guys are very disappointed and they’re hurting, but there’s no point in dwelling on the losses. They just have to keep fighting hard,” Fleck added.
“There’s been good things from us on attack. We’re playing a lot more rugby and we want to get better at that. And I guess it’s part of our growth and our learning.”
“Hopefully by the time we get back to South Africa we’ll be a better team, on and off the field.”