Sharks coach wary of ‘Fleck factor’

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In the best traditions of derbies between the sides, Gary Gold and Robbie Fleck have been talking up the opposition, while behind closed doors the teams are preparing to rip each other’s heads off.

The bookies have the unbeaten Stormers as favourites, mostly by virtue of being at home and their combinations are better known, while a number of Sharks are still finding their feet in Super Rugby.

The bookies are probably spot-on. The Stormers were emphatic in beating the Bulls at Newlands in round one and showed character to out-muscle the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, while the Sharks struggled to subdue the Kings in the first half of their round-one match but then showed admirable courage in seeing off the Jaguares in Durban last week.

“We have a lot of respect for a Stormers team that is probably a few years ahead of us in terms of progression and continuity from (outgoing coach) Allister Coetzee to (his long-time assistant) Robbie Fleck,” said Gold.

“They are a tight unit and we will show them the respect they deserve by the urgency with which we'll play.

“We are not just going to pitch up in Cape Town and see how it goes.”

The Sharks are in a good place, psychologically. They know they are not world-beaters just yet but have taken confidence out of their wins over Toulon, Toulouse, the Kings and the Jaguares.

The Argentinians didn't score a point in the second half at Kings Park because of tenacious defence from the home side.

“We're making incremental progress and recognise that what has gone before this season will not be good enough against the Stormers, who'll pose very tough questions at a packed Newlands.

“Fleckie is taking their game to a new level,” Gold said.

“He has had his own influence on how he would like to see things done. He has taken the strengths built by Allister, the set pieces and defence, and added his attacking mindset to that foundation.

“We hear from guys in their squad that they are very happy under Fleckie and, as a South African, I'm ecstatic that the Stormers went that route.

“Fleckie is a very smart guy and certainly did his apprenticeship. He was a great Springbok player and then an assistant coach for six years.

“I'm very happy for him and for SA rugby that he has been recognised and I think he is doing an outstanding job.”

Fleck, in turn, has heaped praise on the Sharks, in particular their vastly improved defence following last season’s pitiful effort in this regard.

They conceded a whopping 43 tries, and in the off-season recruited defence guru Omar Mouneimne.

“We know Omar from the time he spent coaching at the Stormers between 2008 and 2010. He’s a very good defence coach and you can see a big difference in the Sharks’ defensive system,” Fleck said.

“The Sharks are looking good and appear to be a well-rounded side. There are some clear changes from last season - they’re very organised defensively and have a well-balanced kicking game, with good kickers in Joe Pietersen and Willie le Roux.

“But I also think they’re looking to keep the ball in hand a bit more. We’re actually two quite similar teams.”

Pietersen has been a steady influence at No.10 in taking over from injured Patrick Lambie and his experience has been preferred to the flair of youngster Garth April.

Fleck knows Pietersen inside out, having coached him when he was the Stormers’ fullback for a number of seasons.

“Joe’s a really good rugby player and when he has time on the ball he can be very dangerous. He generally makes good decisions, so we can’t just let him have it all his own way. We have to put him under a bit of pressure. He’s a point-scoring machine, and he’s got a nice flow into the Sharks’ attack and he’s running things smoothly.

“I like the way the Sharks are playing. They have some big strong backs and a mobile pack.”

So it's pats on the back all round from the respective coaches but the phoney war is just about to end and this evening’s game will not be for the faint-hearted.

TEAMS

Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (co-captain), 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe (co-captain), 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg

Replacements: Scarra Ntubeni, Oli Kebble, Vincent Koch, JD Schickerling, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Nic Groom, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Huw Jones

Sharks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira (capt)

Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Juan Schoeman, Lourens Adriaanse, Hyron Andrews, Philip van der Walt, Michael Claassens, Garth April, S’bura Sithole

Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand) - Saturday Star

Original source: Sharks coach wary of ‘Fleck factor’

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