Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Stormers captain CORNÉ KRIGE on the next Springbok coach, a lack of flyhalf depth at the Stormers and the highly anticipated coastal clash at Newlands on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: What did you make of Eddie Jones' departure and Robbie Fleck’s appointment?
Corné Krige: While Eddie Jones’ exit was very disappointing, in Robbie Fleck the Stormers have a very astute local head coach who understands what it takes to create a team environment that is conducive to high-level performance. Fleckie was always unpredictable when he ran with the ball as a player and, as a coach, he has sound ideas in terms of sharpening the Stormers attack. I believe he may well look to what Stephen Larkham is doing with the Brumbies. The Canberra-based side have an attacking mindset and aim to capitalize on every single opportunity where they can break down the defence. Although it will naturally take a bit of time for Fleckie to imprint his playing style, he thinks outside the box. Having played with him, he never enjoyed it when a coach tried to control him both on and off the field. As such, he will afford the players the freedom to express themselves.
Sport24 asked: Juan de Jongh and Frans Malherbe were named co-captains. A good or bad call?
Corné Krige: It’s a great idea. The rate of attrition in rugby these days is so bad that a team needs as many leaders as possible. If you lose one to injury, you can call upon the next. During my playing days at the Stormers, Bob Skinstad and I weren’t officially appointed as co-captains, but we shared the captaincy role which served the team. The fact that there was never competition between us for a position in the side made it much easier and we worked well together. Then Stormers coach Alan Solomons believed in having leaders in each position and he really encouraged player input. For me, it comes down to collective leadership and in a team unit every player needs to take responsibility.
Sport24 asked: Robert du Preez is out with a knee injury. Is the Stormers’ flyhalf depth a worry?
Corné Krige: Yes. A good start to the season for the Stormers has been blighted by the injury to Du Preez. The 22-year-old is set to miss around 12 weeks of Super Rugby, which represents a big blow to the Stormers. While Fleckie has backed Kurt Coleman to step up again after earning game time against the Cheetahs, in my opinion, he is simply not in the same league as Du Preez. However, Coleman has been promoted to the starting line-up and Jean-Luc du Plessis has earned a spot on the bench. The latter is a massive talent. I remember seeing Du Plessis playing for Paarl Boys’ High and saying that he would become a future Springbok. Although it’s good to give youngsters a chance, it’s sometimes unfair to blood them in Super Rugby because ideally they should first be introduced at Currie Cup level. There are times when those types of players are thrown into the deep and swim. However, I feel the Stormers would have been better served casting the net wider and recruiting a seasoned campaigner like Marnitz Boshoff, who’s lost his No 10 shirt at the Lions to Elton Jantjies.
Sport24 asked: Schalk Burger has signed for Saracens. Is next season the right time to move on?
Corné Krige: I believe it’s the right time for Schalla to head abroad. He is an absolute legend of South African rugby and deserves to cash in during the twilight of his playing career. He has always put his body on the line and has returned from some huge setbacks. Experienced players such as Schalk must maximise their earning potential overseas before they come back home to retire with broken bodies. When I headed to the UK to play for Northampton Saints in 2004, truth be told, I went on something of a retirement package. I didn’t head up north to expand my horizons, but rather to cash in for a couple of years before ultimately calling time on my career. However, the increasing number of young players who head abroad will definitely broaden their horizons and improve their game.
Sport24 asked: We’re into March and the Bok coach is yet to be appointed. Are you concerned?
Corné Krige: Yes, I’m concerned. Saru must get its act together and make the appointment of the next Springbok coach as soon as possible. While I don’t generally enjoy talking about politics, the administrators must sort out their differences because the future of SA rugby should be the main focus. It’s never good when there is infighting within an institution, whether it be a business or sports entity. Allister Coetzee appears to be the favourite to fill the hot seat long-term. I’ve never worked under Coetzee, but I hear he’s similar to Fleck in that he creates an environment that is conducive to great performances. The former Stormers coach is philosophical about the oval game and his management style is inclusive rather than authoritarian. Coetzee would be a good man to occupy the position of national team head coach and boasts the qualities to be a great success. Meanwhile, Rassie Erasmus is a rugby brain of note and would add value in whatever capacity. He arguably studies the game of rugby better than anybody else in the country, if not the world. If Coetzee is appointed Springbok coach, Erasmus can offer invaluable input behind-the-scenes.
Sport24 asked: Do you concur that SA sides are embracing more of a ball-in-hand approach?
Corné Krige: I agree. The reason SA teams are playing more of a ball-in-hand approach than ever before is because the rules have changed and you simply have to hold onto the ball. You can’t just kick it away to the opposition. SA team have had to adapt. As the Lions showed against the Chiefs in Hamilton, we are capable of beating teams that are renowned for running rugby and possess the skills to beat them at their own game. The Lions boast big backs and forwards that can run onto the ball at pace and use their skills to break down defences. It should be a blueprint for the national side.
Sport24 asked: And finally, your thoughts ahead of the Stormers-Sharks derby in Cape Town?
Corné Krige: It promises to be an unbelievable game of rugby. The Sharks are starting to build some confidence and the Stormers have shown strong early season form. There is always a bit of niggle between the two sides and I’m looking forward to the packs taking each other on. The set-piece is so important in rugby these days and the match will most likely be decided in that department. The set-piece has always been a launch pad, but with defences increasingly difficult to break down, the real focus is on getting the ball from broken play, playing with it when defences are unstructured and then creating mismatches between your quick backline players and their slow, fat forwards. Taking everything into account, along with home ground advantage, I’m tipping the Stormers by six points.