DHL Stormers Head Coach Robbie Fleck was encouraged by what he saw from his squad in the pre-season game against the Vodacom Bulls in Wellington on Saturday.
Following their comfortable 77-0 pre-season victory against SWD Eagles in George a fortnight ago, Fleck wanted a lift in intensity to prepare his team for what they can expect this season.
That they certainly got against a physical Vodacom Bulls team in a sweltering Wellington on Saturday, with both teams scoring four tries to record an entertaining 26-26 draw.
While the result was not the focus for either side, the clash gave Fleck and his charges a chance to experience the kind of intensity that will be coming their way when the season kicks off against the Jaguares at DHL Newlands on February 17.
The DHL Stormers boss said that the tough encounter against a determined Vodacom Bulls side was exactly what his team needed.
“It was exactly what we needed – a good hard game with a good tempo,” he said.
The Vodacom Bulls managed to put the DHL Stormers under considerable pressure in the first half, testing the defence for extended periods.
Fleck said that the way that his team was able to handle that to go into half-time trailing by just one try and then adjust their approach in the second half was encouraging.
“We were our own worst enemies in that first half where the penalty count was 12 to two.
“We were giving away far too many penalties and they were winning the territory battle. We gave them opportunity after opportunity and they kept coming at us.
“In saying that we scored a very good try under pressure, I think the guys showed some good character to defend like we had to in that first half.
“The second half was much better, we turned it around and I think we were 19-5 up with three minutes left to play when they got that try from a quick tap to make it even.
“It was a far better response from our players discipline-wise, we got our tactics right, we were a little bit more direct and defensively we were better, which showed in the perfomance in the second half,” he explained.
Fleck was pleased that the Vodacom Bulls went hard at his team in the opening exchanges, which was ideal preparation for what they can expect this season.
“For us that first half was a great example of linespeed from their side, I think they really came out and put our ball-carriers and our decision-makers under pressure, which is great because that is exactly what we will face this season.
“Whether they were onside or not is irrelevant, because we have got that experience now and I am grateful for that because the boys now know exactly what is going to come in two weeks,” he said.
The way the DHL Stormers adapted under pressure in the second half was another encouraging sign for Fleck.
“It is tough to judge that first half because our discipline was so poor, so we couldn’t really get anything going. We saw glimpses of it in the second half, I thought our breakdown was way better.
“We became a bit more direct and were more efficient in the second half and created a lot more opportunities.
“When we got it right on attack we got in behind them and put them under a bit of pressure,” he said.
The only new injury concern for the DHL Stormers is tighthead prop Wilco Louw who suffered a hip flexor injury and will be assessed further after going for scans.