They may be the best attacking side in Super Rugby, but Stormers coach Rob Fleck reckons it’s the Lions’ monstrous kicking game that will win it for them on Saturday.
As one of the three SA coaches to have coached against both sides, I had a chat to Fleck on behalf of All Out Rugby about how he would take on the Lions and Crusaders were he playing against them this weekend.
On the Lions game …
To Fleck’s mind, the Lions are the best attacking side in the comp: “They have a strong set piece, probably the most successful maul, a more than competent half back pairing, a team spine made up mostly of Springboks, which is a huge strength, experience and leaders in key positions, and a massive work ethic. They are playing with a lot of belief, and can play a high tempo game – that’s why they beat the Canes. Once they up the tempo, it is difficult to live with them.”
On the Crusaders game …
“They too, have a proper set piece,” says the Stormers mentor, “And they are not shy to use both the scrum and lineout as weapons.”
“They are powerful and strong, and have without doubt the best defence in the comp, with great line speed, connection and organisation. And as part of that defence, they have the best defensive maul in the comp. They cover the field well, giving sides very little field space to find with kicks.”
On attack, Fleck has been impressed with their conversion rate in the red zone, especially from the driving maul.
On how the game will pan out …
As the top two sides in Super Rugby this year, both have incredibly similar season stats, yet play quite different games. In effect one could call it the best attacking side against the best defensive side, the irony being that it’s the SA side deemed the best attacking side!
“The Crusaders have the artillery to go toe to toe with the Lions in the set piece, and will,” says Fleck.
“They will be well connected on defence and will look to attack the half backs.”
“Going coast to coast is not going to work for the Lions,” continues Fleck. “They will need to play a lot more like they did in the second half against the Canes – and be more direct.”
“And while there won’t be as much kick space for Lions to find, it’s again vital that the Lions make use of their kicking game like they did in the last 40 on Saturday. In Elton Jantjies, Ruan Combrinck and Andries Coetzee, not only do the Lions have a nice mix of left and right footed kickers, but probably also the guys that get the most distance via the boot. So while not scared to hold onto the ball, the Lions do have a good kicking game. I don’t see them just running from anywhere.”
“The Crusaders don’t have the kicking game to match the Lions,” says Fleck. “Richie Mo’unga kicks astutely, but does not have the distance.”
So in a nutshell, the Stormers head coach reckons the visitors have a chance if they can cut the home side halfbacks off from their potent backline, forcing them into a ten a side bruiser.
But throw in the travel and altitude, and the fact that the Lions will be playing in front of over 60 000 passionate fans, and Fleck is picking a more settled Lions team to beat a what is clearly a good Crusaders side, but one lacking a smidgeon in big match experience.
For the full story, including what Fleck had to say on referee Jaco Peyper, head to All Out Rugby