Over the last year under Robbie Fleck, the Stormers have recognised three key areas of the game where they need to improve if they want to compete with the New Zealand teams in Super Rugby.
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The Stormers weren’t too bad last year when they played against Australian sides, but their shortcomings were exposed when they came up against the Chiefs – their first opponents from New Zealand – in the playoffs. The Stormers were blown off the park on that day, because they lacked the skills, fitness and intensity to compete with the New Zealand sides.
The Stormers’ best signing has been to get former Blues assistant coach Paul Feeney (pictured) on board to sharpen up their skills on attack. You can clearly see their core skills, as well as their offloading and in contact are a lot better this year.
They also have a lot of youngsters who are fearless, and who are excelling because of the freedom they have been given on the pitch.
To beat New Zealand teams you have to ne physical and execute at speed. The Stormers did this well on the weekend, as their intensity on attack and defence never dropped, while their physicality at the breakdown was great.
The Stormers also finished the game strongly, which has been a massive problem in South African rugby over the last few years. The Lions showed it last year, if you can play with the same skill and intensity for the full 80 minutes, South African teams can compete with the best in Super Rugby.
The rest of our Super Rugby franchises, as well as the Springbok coach, need to take heed of these lessons.
Conditioning plays a major part in this, and I think we are going about our conditioning the wrong way in this country, and why our teams haven’t been able to compete with their New Zealand counterparts for more than 65 minutes during matches.
At this point we are more worried about getting our players heavier rather than fitter. I wonder … is our conditioning strategies specific for the modern game or is it still a general model?
From the sidelines, it seems like our natural talent and potential are carrying us, while we don’t get close to unearthing our players’ true potential. Jan Serfontein is a great example of how his skill and and ability have been disregarded to make him a big, physical player.
We as a country have the strongest natural development systems, and it’s unthinkable that we should struggle at franchise and at national level. In the Craven week, we have the oldest and best trial system where we see the future international players. Other countries have to create academies to nurture their talent and potential. We do not need it in this country, but what we do need is systems to enhance the positional requirements to become untouchable.
I believe the myth that we have to bulk up and become almost twice our normal size is so overrated, because it has become shackles on our own feet and it’s holding us back.
The one-season wonders that come and go is because we coach the individual brilliance out of them. Coaches are there to fulfil a player’s dreams and potential, not their own.
Our coaches have become more like music students who became the best guitar player from a sheet. They play in the best town halls, but when we need them to play at a braai they cannot because they do not have a sheet to play from.
We need to get our players in the best possible shape to suit them and not try and bulk them up to suit an outdated game plan. The Stormers showed what can be done with proper conditioning that is taylor made for individual players. They have big boys and they have not so big boys, and all of them put in 80-minute performances with skill and intensity.
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