The 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby competition saw the DHL Stormers make some bold strides in their game on their way to another conference title.
With the challenge of having to face all five New Zealand sides, the DHL Stormers put a major focus on skills and conditioning in the pre-season in a bid to transform their game.
Kiwi Skills and Attack Coach Paul Feeney was added to the management group of Head Coach Robbie Fleck, Forwards Coach Russell Winter, Defence Coach Paul Treu, Kicking Coach Vlok Cilliers and Strength and Conditioning Coach Steph du Toit.
There was also a new captain in Siya Kolisi, who was backed up by vice-captain Eben Etzebeth in a leadership group that also featured experienced heads such as JC Janse van Rensburg, Juan de Jongh, Frans Malherbe and Pieter-Steph du Toit.
They claimed a second consecutive Africa Conference One title, with 10 wins from 15 games in the league phase of the competition to go into the play-offs as third seeds.
They scored 65 tries in those 15 games – the fourth most in the competition – to establish themselves as one of the most dangerous attacking teams.
The hard work in pre-season paid off immediately as they made a dominant start to the competition with six consecutive wins against the Vodacom Bulls, Jaguares, Southern Kings, Sunwolves, Cheetahs and Chiefs.
Before the end of the season they had added victories against the Blues, Toyota Cheetahs, Sunwolves and Vodacom Bulls
The victories against the Chiefs and the Blues at DHL Newlands were two of just three wins against New Zealand teams by a team from outside New Zealand the entire season.
There were also a host of talented players who got their first taste of Vodacom Super Rugby for the DHL Stormers, with the likes of Damian Willemse, Justin Phillips, Jaco Coetzee, Cobus Wiese, Juarno Augustus, EW Viljoen, Ramone Samuels, Steph de Wit and SP Marais all making their debut for the franchise.
During the course of the season Bongi Mbonambi, SP Marais, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit all played their 50th Vodacom Super Rugby match.
There were also some players who parted way with the DHL Stormers at the end of the season, with De Jongh, Oli Kebble and Cheslin Kolbe all moving on to play in Europe.
Fleck is looking forward to the opportunity to build on the progress that his team made in 2017, as they continue to grow as a unit.
“We have a chance to build on what we have been doing since the start of pre-season training last year and the number of young players coming through in the union makes it exciting.
“What is important now is that we use the time before the start of next season wisely so that we come back even stronger at the start of the 2018 Vodacom Super Rugby competition. If we have made the progress we have since last year there is no reason we can’t make similar progress in the same period going forward.
“I believe we have shown massive improvement from last year, and we can do that again. But we’ve got to look at ourselves first and understand who we are and where we want to go.
“Right now the graph is fairly steady and we have a foundation to build off,” he said.
DHL Stormers 2017 results
DHL Stormers 37-24 Vodacom Bulls at DHL Newlands
DHL Stormers 32-25 Jaguares at DHL Newlands
DHL Stormers 41-10 Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth
DHL Stormers 44-31 Sunwolves in Singapore
DHL Stormers 53-10 Toyota Cheetahs at DHL Newlands
DHL Stormers 34-26 Chiefs at DHL Newlands
DHL Stormers 16-29 Emirates Lions at DHL Newlands
DHL Stormers 24-57 Crusaders in Christchurch
DHL Stormers 14-57 Highlanders in Dunedin
DHL Stormers 22-41 Hurricanes in Wellington
DHL Stormers 30-22 Blues at DHL Newlands
DHL Stormers 10-22 Cell C Sharks in Durban
DHL Stormers 40-34 Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein
DHL Stormers 52-15 Sunwolves at DHL Newlands
DHL Stormers 41-33 Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria
DHL Stormers 11-17 Chiefs at DHL Newlands