Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Kiwi import SHAUN TREEBY talks about his stint at the Stormers, SA teams embracing skills training and previews the quarter-final at Newlands on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Since signing for the Stormers in April, how have you adapted?
Shaun Treeby: I have really enjoyed it over here since signing for the Stormers on a short-term contract. While I toured South Africa before when I was with the Highlanders, (Treeby turned out for the men from Dunedin from 2011 to 2016) I still didn’t really know what to expect in terms of culture and team environment. However, in the time that I have been part of the Stormers squad, I have discovered that there is not too much difference between South African and New Zealand rugby - both are rugby-mad nations. However, in terms of coaching, coming from New Zealand it feels more structured in South Africa. In New Zealand what you see, you play. That is drilled into you from a young age. There is the same level of professionalism within camp and the way the Stormers are playing now is similar to how Kiwi teams play the game, which enabled me to adapt. My teammates and coaches have been good to me and Cape Town is a nice place to live. Once my time with the Stormers comes to an end, I will head back home to play in the Mitre 10 Cup and then there’s not too much planned after that point. However, the next goal would be to play Super Rugby. At the moment, I have a wait-and-see attitude and have I no expectations. I will either try to crack Super Rugby again for a New Zealand team or pursue overseas offers. All my options are open at the moment. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Stormers. The team has been going well and it’s been a lot of fun, but it (extending my contract) is not up to me.
Sport24 asked: Have the Stormers genuinely embraced a new-found approach?
Shaun Treeby: Yes. My fellow Kiwi, Paul Feeney, has brought a new discipline to how we train and fun to the environment. Robbie Fleck deserves credit for bringing him on board and focusing on our skills training. In the past, South African teams generally weren’t too big on skill work, but the current management and playing group have embraced the changes and it has made a big difference. The proof of the pudding is in the way the Stormers are playing, and even the forwards have embraced the skill emphasis. Earlier this week, Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane commented that Siya Kolisi “is a South African loose forward that plays a lot more like a Kiwi.” It’s true because Siya has pace, can pass and offload. That remark proves South African forwards are stepping up in terms skillset and are not just using their physicality to dominate opponents. It’s probably quite true that in the past South African players have tended to run over their opponents, whereas in New Zealand the aim has always been to go around the man. From an early age in New Zealand, you are taught to evade your opponent, while in South Africa, players are intent on dominating their opposition physically. The latter tactic is a good one because there are some big boys over here and they do it well, but I suppose physicality can only take you so far. When you come up against players that are the same size and equally as strong, you have to look for other ways to beat the man. South African teams are now doing so by focusing on their skill work.
Sport24 asked: Are you surprised the Highlanders have kicked the most this term?
Shaun Treeby: No. The Highlanders (who have kicked 413 times so far this season) and, New Zealand teams in general, kick more than other sides. When I was playing for the Highlanders, Tony Brown was assistant coach and he loved kicking. Kiwi teams are renowned for their attacking prowess and if there is space they will take it, but the first option is not to run from their own 22. You will notice that they will try and get out of their own half and then look to attack when they are in a better position. Kiwi teams make use of tactical kicking so as to exit effectively. What New Zealand teams to do well is kick in-behind the opposition, and when they get the time and space, they counter-attack from turnovers.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Springbok rugby ahead of the Rugby Championship?
Shaun Treeby: The Springboks played really well against France over the three-match series. They have really improved since the 2016 season where they lacked confidence. Having a break and then coming back helped them out. They played some good running rugby against France, and they are attacking more. I suppose that comes from Super Rugby and how the South African teams are playing with ball in hand. The Boks are also looking to offload more and they have the players to employ an attack-minded game because they boast some good ball-runners. The Boks also stepped up on defence and, for me, a well-functioning defence comes down to players trusting in the system. I see the All Blacks as Rugby Championship favourites, but their Tests with the Springboks are always interesting.
Sport24 asked: Did the British and Irish Lions offer clues to beating the All Blacks?
Shaun Treeby: Teams would definitely have taken note of what the British and Irish Lions did against New Zealand from a tactical perspective. They started off slowly, but did really well to draw the series against the All Blacks. Fleckie made a good point when he said that “line speed is key to put all New Zealand teams under pressure.” I suppose the concept of line speed on defence is probably new to players in South Africa and the Stormers because when I played against them in the past they would have a wall (on defence) and would not employ too much line speed at all. In contrast, back in New Zealand it’s something which the players have been doing for a few years now. Line speed is all about backing your discipline and, if done effectively, it puts the opposition under pressure and on the back foot. Employing line speed is an attacking way to defend really well. South African players are getting a lot better at it. There is plenty of confidence from the Kiwi teams at the moment (in 45 matches, New Zealand teams have won 42 clashes this season for a 93% success rate), but we beat the Chiefs and Blues when they came over to Cape Town and the Lions haven’t had a crack against them yet. I think the theory of a New Zealand team winning Super Rugby this season is unproven. The Kiwi teams will have heaps of belief in themselves owing to the impressive win rates they have set this season, especially against Australian teams where they are unbeaten in 25 matches, but I believe that New Zealand teams will find it quite tough coming over to South Africa for the playoffs. The travel factor cannot be discounted.
Sport24 asked: Having won Super Rugby, what makes a title-winning team?
Shaun Treeby: It’s difficult to put my finger on the key ingredients of a championship-winning team, but we had a nothing-to-lose mentality at the Highlanders. I loved my time with the franchise and, much like the Stormers, it was a great environment to be a part of because the boys were a tight-knit group. At the heart of our success was the fact that we weren’t the favourites to win the Super Rugby title in 2015 and we flew under the radar. We were the underdogs that season, however, there was plenty of confidence within our camp and we had really good men fighting for a common cause. I believe the Stormers can also embrace the nothing-to-lose mentality heading into the playoffs. You probably won’t hear too much being said about the Stormers potentially winning Super Rugby (in the public domain) but there is a lot of confidence within the camp. While our consistency hasn’t always been the best over the season, when we play well we’re able to beat any team.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment ahead of the quarter-final with the Chiefs?
Shaun Treeby: We played pretty well against them when we won 34-26 in April, but we know that it’s going to be a different level of intensity. They are going to give everything they have, but so are we. When you play against New Zealand teams, you have to keep up the tempo because the ball-in-play time is longer. As such, the boys have been training with plenty of tempo and intensity this week. We have a few plans around closing down the Chiefs’ time and space, and we will have to be smart in terms of how we do it. The Chiefs possess quality players and Damian McKenzie is one of the potential game-breakers. If you give him too much time and space and kick the ball down his throat, he will strike. McKenzie is a very good player and he is certainly not too far away from All Black selection. If he keeps on playing the way he’s doing, I’m sure he will be there soon. However, our focus is internal and we want to play the game at our own pace and dictate terms. I feel it’s crucial that we have played all of the New Zealand teams this term and we will know what to expect in the playoffs. And having beaten the Chiefs, there is a belief factor within the group that we can earn back-to-back victories against them. On a personal front, it has been frustrating missing the action owing to a ban and rib injury. I was trying to get back into contention in time for Saturday, but I didn’t quite make it. However, there are some good players in the mix for the Stormers, so I know they will go really well against the Chiefs. A player to watch is 19-year-old Damian Willemse. The flyhalf has been in really good form over the last couple of weeks. He is growing and becoming more confident within the Stormers setup. It should be a good game to watch and hopefully we’ll end up on the right side of the result. We believe we can do it if we play really well, and are aiming for three more weeks in the competition.
Previous Q&A chats:Rohan Janse van Rensburg