The Cape side were leading 9-6, but battled to get going against a robust Bulls pack who managed to disrupt the Stormers’ breakdown and scrum.
But the arrival of a new front row in JC Janse van Rensburg, Scarra Ntubeni and Frans Malherbe around the hour mark seemed to provide the Stormers with the necessary firepower, and they helped to inspire a turnaround to propel the home team to a comfortable 33-9 win in the end.
“We were very confident at half-time. The chat at half-time was exactly that, that we felt the game was swinging our way. We always knew that it was going to be tough in that first half, and credit to the Bulls,” Fleck said at the post-match press conference.
“They came and put us under pressure with their kicking game, and we controlled possession, but we didn’t really control territory, and that put us under a bit of pressure.
“But we always felt that the momentum was starting to swing our way, and that we were starting to get some dominance. The key thing was those first 10 minutes of the second half, and it set the tone for the rest of the game.”
While Fleck praised the contribution made by the bench, he felt that the starting pack had softened up the Bulls to the extent that the Stormers replacements could come in and finish off the job.
Locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit also stole a few Bulls line-outs to starve the visitors of good attacking ball.
Another major difference in the second half was the quicker ball that Juan de Jongh’s team were able to generate at the breakdowns, which Fleck revealed came about after a chat with referee Craig Joubert, as the Bulls had been allowed to come through the ruck and disrupt scrumhalf Jano Vermaak in the first half.
“It (quick ball) was also part of the discussion with the ref. Our leadership group was talking to Craig and saying that we needed our nine (Vermaak) to get to the ball. So, it was partly that, and I agree that partly in the second half, our breakdown was a little bit better, and our tempo was better as the ball was cleaner and it allowed Jano to attack on the front foot,” Fleck said.
“I felt that the front row that started laid the platform for the rest of the guys and obviously Scarra, JC and Frans came on and started to dominate. But we felt the momentum was coming our way with the starting front row.
“The fact that we have Springboks on the bench who can come on and make a huge impact makes a huge difference. I think we were really smart, and credit to Frans for his leadership and Schalk (Burger) for his. We made good decisions in the scrums in the second half – we used to go for it all the time, but we made good decisions and started to get that dominance in the second half.”
The Stormers ended off things in style with a remarkable line-out maul from the 22-metre line, with hooker Scarra Ntubeni falling over the line to secure a bonus point. It was a just reward for a powerful second half, and it’s something that Malherbe won’t forget in a hurry.
“It was awesome hey! When we started getting momentum, it felt like a little jog actually. I was just hoping that we don’t fall over our own feet. Luckily we kept our feet, and it was one of the nicest mauls you’ll see at Newlands,” the Springbok tighthead said.
But while he and his team will enjoy such a comprehensive win over their old foes, they know that they can’t relax, as the Cheetahs lie in wait in Bloemfontein next Saturday.
The Stormers have lost their last three Super Rugby games at the Free State Stadium, and despite having gone down 34-33 to the Jaguares at the weekend, Franco Smith’s young Cheetahs outfit will be difficult to beat.
“It’s obviously nice to start with a win, but we still have lot of work to do. There are still a few work-ons, and we are going up to Bloem next weekend and haven’t won there in three years,” Fleck said.
“So that has to be our next focus. These guys must relax, enjoy the moment and put their feet up on Sunday, and come back on Monday recharged. It’s not going to be easy in Bloem, as we saw at the weekend how dangerous they can be there.”
Right-wing Kobus van Wyk (ankle) is the only injury worry for the Stormers, but Fleck said that he should be fine to play by the weekend.
Original source: Bench made huge difference: Fleck