Johannesburg - Those who were there and who know Robbie Fleck will agree that the Stormers coach has seldom worn his anger on his sleeve as obviously as he did after his team lost to the Sharks in a Vodacom Super Rugby derby just before the June international break.
According to the SuperSport website, the Stormers dominated the last two thirds of that game but had left themselves with way too much to do after a listless and lethargic start where the players, particularly the Springboks who had been announced in Allister Coetzee’s squad earlier that week, appeared to be uninterested and on a go-slow.
Pieter-Steph du Toit was particularly poor and after being dominated by the Sharks’ highly motivated Ruan Botha, he was yanked from the field by Fleck.
While the Bok squad had already been selected, the starting team hadn’t, and that Kings Park non-performance might have cost the 2016 South African Player of the Year his place in the Bok starting line-up in the series against France.
“I was very hacked off after that game and I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry as a coach and I admit the memory does still linger a bit,” said Fleck at the start of the build-up week to Saturday’s clash with the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
“But we have to put that Durban performance behind us and forget about. We are engaging the re-set button. We weren’t happy with that performance against the Sharks but we have to move on. We haven’t seen our Boks and SA A players since that game but they have come back energised. It was important that we trained extremely hard while the other guys were on test duty. The spirit in the team is good.
“It’s now about getting going with the next part of our campaign. We now have to get the guys on the same page as us and bring in some of the success they had (with the Boks and the SA A side) and mix it in with our stuff.”
Fleck is in something of a unique position for a Stormers coach in that he already knows three weeks from the end of the league phase of the season that his team will be hosting a quarterfinal at Newlands.
The Bulls could theoretically end up with the same number of log points as the Stormers in Africa Conference 1, but it would require that they get bonus point wins from their remaining three games while the Stormers would have to lose all their three remaining games and not pick up a solitary bonus point.
Even if that unlikely scenario unfolded, the Stormers also have a massive advantage in the points differential column that would then be turned to in order to determine which team advances.
The Stormers currently have a points differential of +3 as opposed to -124 for the Bulls – meaning that the Bulls would have to make up a whopping 127 points. It isn’t going to happen.
Although the Cheetahs are one point ahead of the Bulls in that section at present, the Bloemfontein team has played one more game so are out of even theoretical contention for an advance to the play-offs.
Not that Fleck feels that is a disadvantage for them. On the contrary, he reckons it will make them more dangerous.
“The Cheetahs look like they enjoy playing when the pressure is off and they have nothing to lose, and we know they will be a dangerous team to play against,” said Fleck.
“We know we will probably play a Kiwi team in the quarterfinal so I watched the two rounds that the New Zealand sides played while we were on our break very closely, and I have also watched the Lions series with interest to see what can be taken from that. It is a unique position that we are in at the moment knowing so far out that our position is effectively decided.
“But that does not mean that we only focus on the quarterfinal. We had a difficult six weeks before the break that was not helped by that Sharks result, and we need to find some consistency and pick up some winning momentum so that we can go into the play-offs with some confidence. We are going to Bloemfontein with one mission and that is to win the game.
“We beat them well in Cape Town in the first round but that will just make them more determined. Their coach Franco Smith has been involved with a winning Bok team and that will have given him confidence and they also have players who were involved with the Boks and SA A teams. They have improved a lot since they played us at Newlands and although they lost all their games in New Zealand they were competitive. They also gave the Sunwolves a good beating away from home, which isn’t easy to do.”
The Stormers follow up their trip to Bloemfontein by hosting the Sunwolves in Cape Town on 8 July before travelling to Loftus for their final league game against the Bulls.