WATCH: ‘They know how to win a URC trophy’ - Former coach Robbie Fleck feels the Stormers can bag back-to-back titles



Published May 27, 2023


Cape Town - Robbie Fleck and John Dobson are bosom buddies. Their friendship stretches back to sharing an Alma Mater through to their unbridled passion in trying to help the Ikeys topple their rivals Maties from Stellenbosch off their perch.

But if there is one thing that Fleck is envious of his good mate for, its the fact that “Dobbo” has a ball-playing flyhalf in Manie Libbok conducting the orchestra that is the Stormers backline.

“Manie Libbok is a masterful player. That's what we were missing when I was the coach. We didn't really have a No 10 who could control the game like he can,” Fleck told IOL Sport in an exclusive interview this week.

“He's been the game-changer for me. He should definitely be a Springbok, without a doubt. The amount of value that he's added to this group and the success of this Stormers franchise is a lot down to him and the way he plays the game.”

Fleck was Dobson's predecessor as Stormers coach. Many believe it should have been Dobson instead steering the Stormers ship in 2016 already when Fleck was elevated from backline advisor under the previous regime of Rassie Erasmus and Allister Coetzee.

But with Western Province Rugby Union plunging themselves into an administrative crisis, Fleck believes that, as in life, timing in rugby is everything.

“When Dobbo took over from myself, he still had two hard years where he had to fight in the boardroom instead of coaching on the field,” Fleck said.

“It was only when those sideshows disappeared that Dobbo was able to come in. Dobbo was always the right guy for the job. He is not only an outstanding coach, but also a good human being. He understands how to manage people above, below and alongside him. I absolutely believe Dobbo is the right guy at the right time.”

Sitting down with Fleck at the hallowed Bishops Piley Rees field where players don't wear numbers on their jerseys to cultivate a culture where everyone can handle the ball with equal dexterity and playing the game should bring about a sense of enjoyment rather than feeling like a chore, it is hard to shake the feeling that he endured plenty of frustration during his tenure as Stormers coach.

“We were going through a transition. We had played a certain brand of rugby when Rassie was the director of rugby, and then Allister took over.

“In my heart I had always wanted to play a certain brand, like the way we played. It is not the easiest thing to implement. It comes down to belief. We were starting to get somewhere, but the pack was the strength back when I was coaching, and you tend to play towards your strengths.

“You do then tend to become a bit conservative in your mindset, especially with the pressure there to win every game, and when you play the New Zealand opposition, you do look to try to play ‘the South African way'.”

Fleck's internal conflict was greater as he was an integral part of the original “Men in Black” in 1999 when the Stormers thrilled with their sense of on the rugby field.

Led by the enigmatic Bobby Skinstad and courageous Corné Krige, those young Stormers played with smiles on their faces and had Cape Town stomping their feet to the rhythm on the terraces of that famous old Newlands Stadium.

There were no bigger rock stars in town with the likes of Percy Montgomery, Breyton Paulse, Skinstad and Fleck himself earning adulation beyond their wildest imagination.

“We were like a family. That's what we were back in 1999. We were a tight group of mates. We were brothers, basically. We had two great leaders in Bob and Corné. And were a very tight mix,” he said.

“We came through the ranks. Basically from U-21s, and also schoolboy level, we had played Craven Week together. It was a long sort of build-up in the making. And you see similar things in this team now. You can feel that same energy that we had in 1999 in this team. Dobbo is the best at it, about bringing people together. He has driven this.

“It's also a similar brand of rugby that we played back in 1999. And the fans identify with it. It was a game of transitions and exposing the opposition defence when there's a chance. There's some unbelievable passes, and off-loads, and side-stepping, and brilliant attacking kicks, so there's a lot of similarities to the way we played.”

Fleck, though, claims the Stormers will not have it all their own way at DHL Stadium this evening but feels the Class of 2023 has a different aura to his teams that came up short in Super Rugby play-off matches.

“They (Munster) are a good team and have some Irish internationals and some tough South Africans playing for them. They have an identity now,” he said.

“They were struggling for an identity both on and off the field in comparison to when former captain Jean (de Villiers) was playing for them. They are a serious rugby franchise with a massive following. They are playing a good brand of rugby.

“But this Stormers side is different to previous sides. There has always been that pressure on the Stormers to win a home quarter-final or home semi-final and they tended to disappoint.

“It's different now. There is a different vibe with this team. There is a lot of confidence with this team. There is less pressure and less expectations. The fans sort of understand where this team is going.

“There is already a URC trophy in the bag from last year. They know how to do it. There is belief in the group and they feel backed. It is a very different situation now and the whole Western Province is invested in it and there's no reason why they can't go back-to-back.”