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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Ambition allows for short-term pain

The DHL Stormers’ skills coach Paul Feeney believes there is no space for playing for respectable scorelines if the team is going to realise its ambition of becoming a winning unit that can challenge for the Vodacom Super Rugby title.

The Stormers conceded more than 50 points against the Crusaders and Highlanders and more than 40 against the Hurricanes, all of them big defeats, on their recent tour of New Zealand. But Feeney, himself a Kiwi and former attack coach at the Blues, reckons the Stormers got more out of that experience than if they had lost by just 10 points playing without ambition.

“Getting a hiding isn’t a bad thing if you learn from it,” says Feeney.

“We could play to lose by 10 points. I think if we went out with that mindset, and just defended and kicked for position, we could do a good damage limitation job, and we would probably come quite close but still lose. What is the point of that? We are playing to win, and that is the way that it should be.

“We have changed a lot, both in terms of the way we play and the mindset that we take onto the field. Getting it right is going to take time, Rome definitely wasn’t built in a day. We are busy with a process and along the way there will be some short term pain for long term gain. The Lions appear to be getting it right but how long ago did John Mitchell and Carlos Spencer start them on their path? It was several years ago. They have taken time to get it right.

“I think what happened to us was that we upped expectations by beating the Chiefs. I think that made people expect more from us, and perhaps we got a false idea ourselves where we were. The New Zealand tour was good in that it showed us where we are and what we need to do. But we are proud of the fact we are the only side outside of New Zealand that has beaten a New Zealand team this year.”

The Stormers have in fact won both of their home games against Kiwi teams, and while Feeney made sure to stress that the Stormers are taking the season game by game, and they have three tough away derbies to contemplate before then, he is confident that the Stormers have enough time to overturn the overseas results if one of those teams visits Newlands for a quarterfinal.

“The quarterfinal is still a long way away and we have four games to play before then. But if we do host a Kiwi team in a quarterfinal, we have worked out that it will probably be the Chiefs or the Hurricanes. We have already beaten the Chiefs at home this year, so we know we can do that. And against the Hurricanes we were well in the game with just a few minutes to go playing away.

“We pushed the Hurricanes big time in that match. The guys got some confidence out of that, and they got some confidence out of the Blues game. Playing at home makes a big difference. Everyone knows that. We had a tough away tour. If you look at the three teams we played in New Zealand, it is hard to imagine a tougher tour than that.”

But a tough tour also meant a good learning opportunity, and Feeney reckons the players have returned to South Africa better off for the experience.

“The guys had lots of things to cope with that they hadn’t experienced before, and under pressure we did struggle with our skills,” he said.

“But we only started training our skills six months ago. We had to be part of two changes – the mindset and the technical aspect. It will take us two to three years to perfect what we are working on. We will try and win a few big games between now and then, but we will occasionally get it wrong in our quest to chase what we are looking for.

“What we learned in New Zealand was that those teams punish you more and you get away with less than is the case when you play other teams. We made small mistakes that were punished. Earlier in the year, when we were winning six matches in a row, we made that those same mistakes but got away with those faults.”

According to Feeney, what the Stormers players need to do is get used to making decisions at pace, and at this point they shouldn’t be too worried about the mistakes that may be made.

“It is all about playing at pace and mistakes will be made. If you watched the Crusaders match against the Hurricanes you would have noted that there were a lot of mistakes made in that match, particularly in the first 15 minutes. They didn’t dwell on it, they just continued to play at pace.

“We are not focusing too much on mistakes because we know we are going to get mistakes. What we don’t want is individuals to be scared of making mistakes. It is going to take time to get used to the tempo, but I think we have made a good start, and hopefully you guys (the media) and the public have noted the improvement we have made in our skill-set since last year. That improvement will continue. Let’s see how we go in the next six to eight months or so.”


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