Fleck has some big calls to make

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The long-time Stormers attack coach, Fleck has spent his first off-season in the hotseat ghost-busting the bogeyman of analytical data that frightens professional players away from playing fast and loose.

Fleck has encouraged his decision-makers to be “fearless”, assuring them that they won’t be denigrated for making mistakes in the pursuit of scoring tries.

The Blues, among many teams before them, played with boundless emotion rather than within the confines of structure under John Kirwan last year. They won three of 16 matches and Kirwan has since been replaced by Tana Umaga.

But perhaps Fleck, who has declared his equal admiration for attack and defence, will discover the secret to winning a Super Rugby title while playing with less restraint.

His Western Province juniors won the U21 cup last year, scoring 59 tries in 12 matches, and if the intensity in that competition is anything like what awaits the Stormers, the Newlands faithful are in for a real treat this season.

A host of Fleck’s WP young guns have been included in the Super Rugby squad and he believes that the core of that junior team has the potential to front up for the Stormers in the not-too-distant future.

How distant remains to be seen, but each of those rookies will come one team announcement closer to making their debut when Fleck unveils his first 23-man squad on Thursday.

There were times in recent seasons where the team literally picked itself, and that’s where Fleck can make a positive change to the team culture. He has made it known that reputation counts for nothing with him and, if the coach follows through, U21 winners and World Cup winners will compete on equal terms to determine who will best serve the team.

This will have made for some heated, opposed training sessions last week as more than 30 players hustled to impress for 15 starting opportunities.

Fleck has big calls to make this week. Cheslin Kolbe at fullback, wing Dillyn Leyds, the Springbok second row of Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit, and co-captain Frans Malherbe at tighthead prop are all a lock to start in those positions against the Bulls, barring injury complications. The 10 remaining spots are up for grabs.

Will co-captain Juan de Jongh start at his preferred outside centre, or in place of crocked No 12 Damian de Allende? And which of Huw Jones, Johnny Kotze and Kobus van Wyk will he be paired with? If Van Wyk isn’t moved to the midfield, will he start on the wing ahead of Leolin Zas?

Fleck will also have to reveal his first-choice halfback tandem. Jano Vermaak, Nic Groom, Robert du Preez and Kurt Coleman are all expected to make the match day squad, but which two will start?

The back row is wide open. There is no specialist fetcher and no bone-crunching tackler in a pool of versatile options that includes Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Siya Kolisi, Schalk Burger, Nizaam Carr and Jurie van Vuuren.

The front row is perhaps the most hotly-contested. Malherbe noted that whoever wears Nos 16, 17 and 18 for the Stormers this season could probably start for a number of rival teams.

He has stiff competition from fellow Bok scrum anchor Vincent Koch for the No 3 jersey, while young Oli Kebble and veteran JC Janse van Rensburg battle for the loosehead role, and Bongi Mbonambi and Scarra Ntubeni push each other to start at hooker. - Cape Times

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