CAPE TOWN – Robbie Fleck knows everything about what it means to be a Stormer. He has seen it all. From being a major part of the magical “Men in Black” team in 1999 to a coach that is now in his fourth and possibly final year at the helm of the Stormers.
So when he says: “It’s the Bulls at Loftus, there is no bigger game for a Stormers fan or Stormers rugby player,” the silver-haired former Springbok centre certainly knows what he is talking about when it comes to tomorrow’s opening Super Rugby challenge awaiting the class of 2019 in South Africa’s capital (5.15pm kickoff).
But for Fleck the task is far greater than just overcoming the Stormers’ arch-rivals in enemy territory. As a player, Fleck was the epitome of the instinctive “play what is in front of you” personality - a trait that made him one of the darlings of Newlands due to the way he expressed himself on the park.
And while he has spoken a good game during his tenure, and brought in assistance from rugby’s mecca - New Zealand - over the past couple of years to get the current crop to play with the same type of freedom, the best outcome has been a couple of quarter-final playoff defeats.
For a team with the fanatical following the Stormers enjoy this is simply not good enough, even taking into account all the constant off-field administrative rumblings that undoubtedly impact the team negatively.
To Fleck’s credit, though, he admits there will be “no excuses” after the Stormers won just six of their 16 outings to finish fourth in the SA conference last season.
“We decided four years ago (when Fleck was first appointed as head coach) that this would be our year,” Fleck said. “We are over the processes now and it’s all about delivering. There’s no pressure on my shoulders this year. This is the last year on my contract. Regardless of what happens we will give everything.
“We’ve added to our game over the past few years. We’ve lost a few players along (the) way, but there are a lot of guys who have come right through from the WP Institute to the WP Under-21 side, to the Currie Cup side, to the Stormers side. They’ve come a long way as a group.
“Last year was a bit of a hiccup. We’ve discussed it and moved on. We’re pouring everything into this year and making no excuses. The coaches will coach with freedom and the players will play with freedom. We may lose one or two along (the) way, but we know what we want to achieve.”
Fleck’s team selection for the all-important Bulls clash certainly reflects a man that has shaken off the shackles. Although his hand was forced partly by injuries to props Steven Kitshoff, who has been ruled out for between four to six weeks with a grade 2 hamstring tear, and fellow front-ranker Frans Malherbe’s bruising on the knee in addition to Juarno Augustus’ ankle injury (out for seven to 10 days), Fleck has still made some refreshing calls.
Along with a Stormers debut for Blitzbok Ruhan Nel at outside centre, the invigorating Dillyn Leyds has been given the space to attack from No 15, while Fleck has also placed his faith in the young, but hugely promising Salmaan Moerat in the second row to front up to an almighty Bulls pack including Boks Duane Vermuelen, Lood de Jager and Trevor Nyakane.
15 Dillyn Leyds 14 JJ Engelbrecht 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Damian de Allende 11 SP Marais 10 Damian Willemse 9 Jano Vermaak 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 JD Schickerling 4 Salmaan Moerat 3 Wilco Louw 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Ali Vermaak.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni 17 Corne Fourie 18 Neethling Fouche 19 Chris van Zyl 20 Kobus van Dyk 21 Herschel Jantjies 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis 23 Dan du Plessis.
Warrick Gelant, Johnny Kotze, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Rosko Specman, Handré Pollard, Embrose Papier, Duane Vermeulen, Hanro Liebenberg, Ruan Steenkamp, Lood de Jager (c), Jason Jenkins, Trevor Nyakane, Schalk Brits, Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: Corniel Els, Simphiwe Matanzima, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Eli Snyman, Thembelani Bholi, Ivan van Zyl, Manie Libbok, Dylan Sage@ZaahierAdams