Cape Town - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says the appointment of Jaco Peyper to referee the game has enabled him to sleep much easier in the build-up to Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby quarter-final against the Chiefs.
According to the SuperSport website, both of the coaches of the Newlands protagonists have concerned over the adjudication of the breakdown, with Chiefs coach Dave Rennie saying at the start of the week that he hoped that the breakdowns would be refereed in a way that would allow his team to get quick ball.
If that was an insinuation that the Stormers might try and slow ball down by being illegal, Fleck appears to have similar reservations about the aspects of the Chiefs approach to this crucial area of the game.
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland drew attention to what he thought were illegal tactics from New Zealand teams before the recent series against the All Blacks, and Peyper was one of the referees in that series.
But Fleck reckons the top South African referee was already alert to the issues long before the Lions coach brought it up.
“We are pleased that Jaco is there on Saturday as he has a very clear idea of how they play at the breakdown,” said Fleck.
“I have had lots of conversations with him in the past and he is well informed on how the breakdowns should be handled. It is important because their breakdown tactics are a big thing for the Chiefs, the way they go about cleaning out around the fringes.
Jaco refereed the round robin game and he sorted that out early and both teams were able to play rugby. Most commentators would agree that game was among the best of the season so far.
“Both teams are very similar and are capable of playing good rugby so hopefully the game will be a great spectacle. Their coach Dave Rennie has mentioned it in the week, and I have to agree that I hope the breakdown is removed as an issue.
This quarter-final will be a great spectacle in terms of the rugby played if Jaco does what he did in the round robin game. If everything is kept legal at the breakdown it will be a good game.”
That might make it seem the coaches are at odds, but there is a lot of respect between the pair and recognition of what the other is capable of.
Rennie told the Cape Town media after the match in April that he was surprised how well the Stormers stuck with the Chiefs in the final minutes, which was when he expected the superior Kiwi conditioning to take its toll on South African opposition.
“We are good with our conditioning, and that match was a good test of it," said Fleck.
"There were three or four stages of that game where ball was in play for four minutes or more. Dave is successful with his team because he has a very hard working pack, an extremely fit side and game-breakers at the back. We learnt a lot of lessons though in last year’s quarterfinal, when we were well beaten, and it was because of the hard pre-season work we put in on our conditioning that we were able to last so well at Newlands in the league match.”
Apart from the fact that at least this time they have had a taste of Kiwi opposition on the road to the play-offs, another factor in the Stormers’ favour on Saturday is the ease with which they qualified for the play-offs, which meant they could work on different aspects of their game that they know will be crucial against the Chiefs during the three so-called dead rubber games since the June break.
“We know what to expect against the Chiefs, we know that ball will be in play a lot, so our tactic against the Bulls last week was to keep ball in play by avoiding lineouts. The players responded exceptionally well. We had quick ball and tempo at lineout time. We know that on Saturday we could have the ball in play for four or five minutes, so we’ve been building towards that.
“We know they are not going to kick out. They will counter-attack. One of the things the Chiefs bring is a good kicking game. Our kicking game was non-existent in the quarter-final last year. Now it is different. We know it is going to be a hard physical battle.
“They are a dangerous side and in the league game they had us at sixes and sevens at times. We know that and they know that. But we are not scared of anything. We have prepared for all eventualities. What they are good at we can also do. To beat them we know we will have to outscore them in tries. We scored four against three in April. We have just got to be the best at what we do.”