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Siya Kolisi © Gallo Images

Skipper praises Fleck’s calmness

DHL Stormers coach Robbie Fleck came in for some big praise from team captain Siya Kolisi for the way he dealt with the flu crisis that played havoc with the preparations for the game against the Blues at the weekend.

The Stormers won 37-20 in their first game back at Newlands after a tour that saw them lose three matches in three starts in Australia and New Zealand. The Stormers led from start to finish and were never challenged by the Kiwi unit, but the ease with which they won belied a tough preparation week which Fleck had described as unique in his experience.

Several players came down with what was described as hectic flu while in New Zealand and they brought it back with them, with a significant proportion of the management team, including the doctor, joining a lengthy list of players who were unable to train. It forced Fleck to postpone the first practice of the week until Thursday.

With it being a must win for the Stormers as they looked to arrest their losing slide and vindicate Fleck’s claims that his side is on an upward slope in their performance graph, it would have been understandable for Fleck to be flustered and panicky. However in his dealings with the media last week he was calm and unflustered, and according to Kolisi it was an attitude that helped the players.

“Robbie could have panicked with everything that was going wrong but he didn’t and I must praise him for that as it really helped us. He was very calm and that calmness rubbed off on the players,” said Kolisi.

“I must say as a captain this was one of the best games I have been involved in as everything just came together and the players didn’t need to take too much instruction. Everyone was on the same page and from the start it wasn’t necessary to do much talking. Everyone knew what they had to do and it was great to have everyone playing so well together.”

When the impacts of the flu did start to make their presence felt was late in the game, when several Stormers had to be treated for cramp.

“I think you would have seen that we did lose it a bit in the second half, which was understandable,” said Fleck.

But by then the Stormers had established such a comfortable buffer that the three second half tries scored by the Blues didn’t hurt them. They were helped by JJ Engelbrecht’s break-away try that snuffed out a potential Blues fightback, and the former Bulls player, who started his career on the wing for WP before switching to centre after his move to Pretoria, was singled out by Fleck.

“I thought JJ was really good today. His carrying of the ball was strong and he held up the ball well. It is good to have a strong boy in the wide channels. Although he played on the wing he made a couple of teasing breaks in the midfield too.”

Engelbrecht may not have played had SP Marais not been injured, which prompted Fleck to move Dillyn Leyds from wing to fullback. So the coach feels he has options now at the back, with EW Viljoen, the selected outside centre, impressing in the midfield alongside the rejuvenated Damian de Allende and scoring two tries.

De Allende, who was down with flu for most of the week and played himself to a standstill, certainly looks like he is headed back to his best form.

“Damian was quite pale before halftime but he came through the game well and it was important to have his experience there,” said Fleck.

“He was excellent against the Crusaders and he was our man of the match against the Highlanders, when he played with a touch of flu, so he does look like he is on track to regain the form that he displayed in 2015. For him to be delivering these sorts of performances now is very encouraging. He made some big carries against Sonny Bill Williams and knocked him over twice. I think that it was a stand-out for us that in difficult circumstances it was the senior players who delivered and led the way.”

Fleck said it was De Allende’s assurance and strength at inside centre that gave man of the match Damian Willemse the opportunity to shine at flyhalf. Willemse is certainly on a sharp upward curve and is maturing rapidly. With Jean-Luc du Plessis returning to the game by being selected to play for Western Province in a friendly in Upington, the Stormers’ pivot depth has also been bolstered, and ditto for the midfield, where Dan du Plessis is also playing again.

“It is good to have players coming back into the system and the one thing that the injury problems we have experienced has done is make sure more players get opportunities. We must back up this weekend against the Reds and it will be important for us to retain the hunger we showed against the Blues but I think what we have been through this week will make us stronger and we are in a good space.”


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