One more chance for Fleck to tick the boxes
It’s not about me, it’s about this generation of Stormers, says Schalk
NO MATTER how much they have tried to deny it, the Stormers would only be human if they were looking past today’s game against the Kings to next week’s quarter-final.
The reality is while the Stormers may not have anything to lose this evening at Newlands in terms of log points, their general performance will be absolutely crucial in terms of their preparation for a likely showdown against New Zealand opponents.
Fleck said this week that he wants his team to play at a level that they haven’t reached this season. He wants them to increase their intensity in order to be ready for whomever they will face next Saturday.
The Stormers – and their fans – know full well that they have not played a New Zealand team this season, and today’s game will in many ways serve as a final checklist before the all- important playoffs.
Stormers captain Schalk Burger, has of course “been there and done that” when it comes to knockout matches.
“I have obviously been here for a really long time. I have been captain in various seasons. This is my last league game for the Stormers, but hopefully there is a few more to come,” he said. “We have got a quarter- final next week and who knows what can happen after that.”
“But it’s not about me, it’s about this generation of Stormers players and how we can improve ( ahead of the quarter- finals).
“But I’m going to enjoy it. The beer starts tasting better at my age when you survive a good 80 minutes when you are playing against 26- year- olds. So nothing changes this weekend.”
“Obviously in the quarter- finals, something we haven’t encountered this year, we are going to encounter a New Zealand side.
“We will prep as well as we can. There is not much we can do about their prep. If we can execute our plans and play in the right area of the field, we can put them under pressure as well.”
The Kings aren’t under any illusions either. They won’t be holding too tightly to the hope of bagging only their third Super Rugby win this season.
And who can blame them. Yes, the Kings are 17th on the overall log, but there have been times this season where they have hung in there.
They did it against the Highlanders in Port Elizabeth, when Jamie Josephs’ team struggled throughout the match and finally put the Kings away with 10 minutes to go. Last week we saw it again against the Lions. Johan Ackermann’s side came alive in the last quarter, but the Kings were still very much in the game at Ellis Park shortly after halftime. Fleck was saying all the right things about the Kings this week, and he made a valid point when he said: “If you disrespect them as a team you can get caught short. They’re a difficult team to play. It looks like they play with a lot of passion for each other, and that always makes them a difficult side.
“So we certainly need to be at our best to beat them.”
The Stormers’ set- piece superiority has brought them far this season. Their forwards have effectively laid the foundation for attack. We’ve seen some brilliant individual touches, especially from the likes of young flyhalf Jean- Luc du Plessis.
Although they have clearly tried to play with more attacking intent, the execution hasn’t always been great, and their oneon- one tackling has also been problematic at times.
So, although the result is of secondary importance, there are a few individuals, like Huw Jones, Louis Schreuder and Alistair Vermaak, who will be closely scrutinised today.
Jones had his dancing shoes on last week and with a question mark still hanging over the fitness of fellow centre Daniel du Plessis, it will be important for Fleck that Jones and Damian de Allende gel in midfield.
Schreuder has had an up- anddown career at the Stormers and Western Province, but with Nic Groom also under an injury cloud, the No 9 needs a good showing against the Kings.
Vermaak can be reasonably satisfied with his showing in the scrums against the Force last week but he, too, can provide some assurance for his coach with a strong game this weekend.
TIME TO HIT THE DANCE FLOOR: Huw Jones will have an opportunity to showcase his nifty footwork in midfield.