Stormers may actually play with the ball


Doing drills with the ball in hand has been one of the features of their pre-season after they decided to change their approach for 2016, after playing a conservative brand of rugby under Rassie Erasmus and Allister Coetzee since 2008.

To be fair, Coetzee started to make a bit of mindset shift last season. But the new game plan seemed a bit foreign for some of the players, who have been used to a certain style of rugby over the last few years.

Besides the ball handling, there has also been large emphasis on running, being explosive in the tackle and dominating the gainline. The players have also been forced to make good decisions under pressure, as well as when fatigue sets in.

For a large part of the pre-season these drills have been fun, because players generally prefer to have the ball in their hands than running up a mountain. But, as strength and conditioning coach Steph du Toit explains, they haven’t sacrificed their intensity.

Because Super Rugby is probably the most intense and fastest rugby competition in the world, you have to operate with a high intensity for the entire 80 minutes.

“We always build on intensity and we never compromise on that. That is something we pride ourselves on,” Du Toit said this week.

“In saying that, when the guys came back from Currie Cup rest and December rest, you have to squeeze into that intensity over time. You can’t just start straight away.

“So we start with some cardio, and there will be stiffness, but we never compromise on intensity. We will maybe compromise on the volume of the training, but that is how we manipulate our weeks.”

The fun element, though, is mixed in with competitive training sessions, which helps the players focus on the job at hand as well.

“You want to make it as simple as possible to make it a clear outcome. They are always better when there is fun. But as long as there is seriousness as well, because with the seriousness comes the competitiveness,” Du Toit said. “When they ball is there, they enjoy it. When the ball is not there, it becomes a little stressful mentally.”

Over the years, because of the Stormers’ game plan to play without the ball, and rather to make a plethora of tackles, they have suffered crippling injuries at crucial stages in a given season.

Duane Vermeulen, for example, was always the guy who set the tone on defence with his big hits. But the Springbok No 8 missed three playoff matches over the years.

Last year, the injuries weren’t actually that bad, probably because they made a lot less tackles than in previous years. But Du Toit says the Cape side have changed their weekly schedule to help the players cope with the demands of Super Rugby.

But it hasn’t all gone according to plan for the Stormers during pre-season. A number of key players are still in Japan for club commitments and with the South African Sevens side.

So coach Robbie Fleck hasn’t really been able to look at his options in terms of putting together a starting team. But he is aiming to have an idea by the time they play the Jaguars in a warm-up game on February 13, two weeks before their opening game against the Bulls at Newlands.

“Certainly by the time the Jaguars game comes around we will know who will run out against the Bulls,” Fleck said. - Cape Times

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