CAPE TOWN - Revenge over the Chiefs for last year’s 60-21 whipping is probably the Stormers’ second biggest goal this season. The first, of course, is winning the Super Rugby title.
And if that is so, then Stormers coach Robbie Fleck certainly has the right mindset to try and beat the Kiwis and finally erase that haunting 2016 quarter-final memory.
In the Stormers’ 53-10 victory over the Cheetahs at Newlands on Saturday, Fleck’s men emerged from a tight first few minutes to completely dominate Franco Smith’s team with a performance that showed a much-improved defensive effort. But probably the biggest positive was the attacking intent shown by the hosts.
There were enough offloads to make even Steve Hansen proud - and the fact they stuck was also a good indication of how much the Stormers have improved as they impressively kept the ball alive with perfectly-timed passes.
They also made use of clever attacking kicks, and their support play was brilliant.
But another moment, one insignificant to the outcome of the match but which spoke volumes of the team’s attitude, was Cheslin Kolbe’s gutsy chase-down on Henco Venter that stopped a certain try as he tackled the big No 8 on the line after pursuing him from midfield.
Fleck praised both the team for their performance and Kolbe for his effort. “It was just one of those days where everything sort of stuck. We experienced that against the Chiefs in the quarter-finals where everything stuck for them. Of course it could go horribly wrong, but today was good,” Fleck said.
“We spoke about the one moment that would change it for us and that moment came. It showed what this team is about ... that never-say-die attitude.
“I was really pleased for him (Kolbe), I celebrated that, and it was a good feeling to see the players rally around him. It’s a good feeling for a coach to see your players play like that. It was just an outstanding effort. I’ve been in that situation before, being tackled on the line. So I know what it feels like for that poor guy,” Fleck joked.
And although the Stormers produced a complete performance and should be riding a massive wave of confidence ahead of their massive clash against the Chiefs at Newlands this week, Fleck acknowledged that his team still has a lot to work on before they can start stocking up on the post-Chiefs champagne.
“We face probably the best team in the competition.
“The Cheetahs did stretch us. They asked a lot of questions of our defence and it was probably the highest tempo that we’ve faced so far. And that’s where we’re going to be tested. The Kiwi sides certainly up the tempo. The squad is confident, but you can only see how far you’ve come when you face the team that destroyed you in the quarter-final.”
Fleck also had some words of praise for fullback SP Marais and outside centre EW Viljoen, who were standouts at Newlands.
Marais produced a number of space-creating passes and the crowd saw that exciting running and gap-spotting again, while Viljoen mixed up his big game with a solid defence and classy offloads.
“He (Marais) is the form fullback in South Africa at the moment. Every time he touches the ball he creates something. He’s been a journeyman in SA but I think he’s found his home. He feels backed here and the style of play suits him.
“Viljoen has been outstanding. He just makes good decisions defensively and he gets those offloads away. He’s still a young kid, but he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Scrumhalf Jano Vermaak is set to miss the Chiefs game after leaving the field midway through the first half with concussion.
Fleck added that his team will have to go full-on with their new approach if they want to stand a chance against the New Zealand teams.
“You’re not going to do it through penalties, that’s the bottom line. They’ve got no problem giving penalties away in their own 22, I think it’s part of their philosophy and they’re happy for you to get three-pointers. But you’re not going to beat them because they’re just going to keep on scoring tries and they back their attack.
“We certainly have to believe that that’s the way forward. If you want to beat the best teams in the competition, you have to push your attack. And that’s what we’re facing. We just can’t be satisfied with three points every time.
“I think Franco said it best: ‘let’s give our guys the confidence to play this kind of brand and you’ll see South African rugby go from strength to strength’,” Fleck said.