CAPE TOWN - Every coach has a blueprint or a way he’d like his team to play. And Robbie Fleck’s no different - he wants the Stormers to play the game like they did when they were kids jolling a game of touchies in the backyard.
Fleck has made his vision for a new rugby path clear, and during last year’s Super Rugby season, they showed some promising signs in the form of fine-tuned attacking plays, some innovation (from set-pieces especially) here and there, and noticeably-improved execution of skills.
Following their 2016 quarter-final disappointment against the Chiefs at Newlands, the Stormers brought in Kiwi attack and skills coach Paul Feeney - whose influence has been clear, and they also worked on bringing line speed into their play as opposed to just making use of drift defence. And now the Stormers coach is keen to continue their growth.
“The way we see it the game isn’t perfect, and that’s where we’re going. For so long there’s been these perfect systems and these perfect structures and your set-pieces have to look like this or that. But we feel the game is maybe becoming a little bit chaotic and a little bit imperfect, and we’ve got to coach the players to see that and to feel that. We want them to make decisions under pressure,” Fleck said.
“And that’s what we’re trying to create. We want to create training sessions that aren’t perfect, sessions that are chaotic and different and challenging, sessions that force the players to make decisions that they’ve never had to make in the past.
“If you give players a blueprint and say ‘follow that’, you’re taking all the decision-making and all the feel from the game. So we’re just trying to mix it up and put these players in different situations.”
Playing in the chaos
Ultimately, Fleck wants his players to see the game differently, and it’s a process he’s looking forward to.
“We’re trying to make them think out of the box and grow their rugby brains. We want to make them more game understand," he said.
“It’s not easy, but if we persist with this, they’ll start thinking about the game differently. Like we did when we were kids playing touch rugby in the backyard - no one told you to do anything, you just had that natural instinct and you made a decision on the whim. And that’s where we’re going. Yes you have to have systems and structures, but we really are trying to break it up. And it’s exciting for us.”
But he also wants to see improvement in the grittier aspects of rugby, like his players' physicality in contact - a component that they spent some time on during the off-season.
“We also wanted to take our conditioning to another level, and we wanted to work on our speed of movement. We got some good information on a professional development trip overseas where we met with some high-profile coaches (Dave Rennie, Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell),” Fleck explained.
On the coaching front, Fleck added that they’ve made a couple of changes to their coaching structure.
“We’re mixing the coaching up this year. Paul Treu will be in charge of all structured attack and all structured defence. Paul Feeney will remain the backline and skills coach, but he’s also going to get involved in unstructured defensive play and unstructured attack," Fleck said.