CAPE TOWN - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says they’re aiming to improve their lineout by “at least 10 or 15 percent” against the Blues at Newlands on Saturday (kick-off 3.05 pm).
The Stormers lineout has struggled in recent weeks, and it was on tour against the Waratahs, the Crusaders and the Highlanders that they were cruelly exposed at the set-piece.
Injury to first-choice hooker Bongi Mbonambi before the tour to Australasia and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit missing out against the Highlanders with the flu didn’t help the Stormers’ troubled lineout situation either, although Fleck maintained that their lineout woes weren’t the result of individual errors, but rather “a combination of factors”.
“It hasn’t operated as it should have. I think we’re operating at about 67 or 70 percent, and that’s not good enough for this level and this competition,” Fleck said at Newlands Stadium on Thursday.
“If we can improve our lineout by at least 10 or 15 percent this weekend, then we can give ourselves two more attacking opportunities.”
“We’re working hard on it. It’s not one singular person, it’s a combination of factors. We just need to get that synchronisation right. It’s mainly our attacking lineout that we need to get better options on.”
Apart from a number of Stormers balls going skew or over their jumpers, Fleck’s team haven’t capitalised on the possession they have managed to secure at the set-piece – often stringing together promising attacking plays, but then failing to cross the final hurdle and go over the try line.
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And the Stormers coach believes that the presence of Du Toit – who will start at blindside flank against the Kiwis – should help their lineout, while he also praised the efforts of loose forwards Cobus Wiese and Kobus van Dyk, who haven’t been able to train due to the flu.
“We certainly are creating enough opportunities to be launching from lineout, we just need to capitalise on it now,” he said. “With both Cobus Wiese and Kobus van Dyk not being able to train we needed to make a decision there, and the obvious choice there was Pieter-Steph.
"It helps our lineout problem having him in there as a lineout specialist, but to say that Cobus Weiese and Kobus van Dyk can’t play that role is a bit unfair. But it certainly gives us options.”< p>Several players out with flu
On the extent of the damage the flu has caused, Fleck said that six players in the matchday 23 - Damian de Allende, Van Dyk, Wiese, Carlu Sadie, JC Janse van Rensburg, Sikhumbuzo Notshe – haven’t been able to train this week, and said that should they not be recovered by Friday, he would bring in replacements.
“Friday has to be the final day (to prove their fitness). It’s a pretty hectic strain of flu they’ve got – the management members are not here either…Paul Feeney, Paul Treu, our own doctor, so it is what it is. It’s a unique situation. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in something like this.”
“The medical advice is that if players play with this kind of flu it’s pretty dangerous.”
“Some guys had this flu in Dunedin already and they recovered to play. I’m certainly not concerned, we will play a full 80 minutes – we definitely finished the stronger team in the last two games against New Zealand opposition and I’d like to think we can do the same thing again. Regardless of the flu situation, we’ll put our best foot forward.”
And on the challenge he’s expecting from Tana Umaga’s team, Fleck said: “We’re expecting a physical battle against them – there’s some big boys in that side. But I think they’ve become a smarter side and a well-balanced side, which makes them a tougher team to play against.”
“Tactically they got smarter. I think last year they were just trying to run everything and put teams under pressure with sustained attack, but this year they’ve got a good variation, a good balance in their game.”
“I think set-piece wise they certainly improved, especially their lineout, and their scrum is pretty strong as well. They’ve done a good job at improving the areas they were weak in last year, and they’re more of an all-round side.”
Stormers team: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 JJ Engelbrecht, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Cobus Wiese, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 Craig Barry.