CAPE TOWN Feb 17 Rookie coach Robbie Fleck believes his young Stormers team will adopt a fearless approach to the new Super Rugby season as they get to grips with a new format and the weight of expectation.
The Cape Town-based team finished top of the South African conference last season but have since lost experience in both the management and playing staff ahead of the season-opener against the Bulls at Newlands on Feb. 27.
Fleck, who won 31 caps at centre for South Africa, was not expecting to lead the side in 2016 but the swift arrival and departure of new England head coach Eddie Jones last November sees him elevated into the main chair.
"It's really exciting, my approach is that we are going to be pretty fearless about it, both in our management and playing style," Fleck told Reuters. "That doesn't mean we are going to be off the wall, we'll be pretty pragmatic.
"But we have to be fearless and can't hold back. It's my first time as head coach but I have been here for six or seven years as an assistant so I'm pretty used to the intensity of the competition and the levels of expectation."
Having lost the services of veteran centre Jean de Villiers, number eight Duane Vermuelen, prop Steven Kitshoff and flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, Fleck has been left with a number of holes to fill by players with little or no Super Rugby experience.
"This game is really simple. We need to get the basics right and do them well. We don't want to complicate things too much, especially as it is a young group of players.
"We want to make their transition into Super Rugby a smoother process by simplifying our game-plan and focussing on the core fundamentals of what this game is about. We have also worked incredibly hard on our conditioning."
The change in format of the expanded 18-team competition this season also means no gruelling four-week trips to New Zealand for the Stormers.
They instead face the five other South African sides, newcomers Sunwolves from Japan and Jaguares from Argentina, and the quintet of Australian teams.
BONUS AIR MILES
Fleck believes the easier travel schedule is a boost to their chances.
"We are only travelling for a maximum of two weeks. Traditionally, we have always done well when we arrive and the second game, then we drop off towards the end.
"Generally the South African teams have struggled with the four-week trip, so surely the two-week travel will benefit us. There can't be a case of fatigue or being homesick."
A change in the try-scoring bonus point rules that mean a side must score three more tries than their opponents, a system used in the French Top 14.
"It has worked well in France. I understand it is to encourage more attacking play and to obviously keep the foot on the throat and play for 80 minutes.
"To stay three tries ahead at the end of the game, you are going to have to work hard."
Jones' stay in South Africa may have been brief before he left for Twickenham but Fleck says the Australian's influence will still be evident in the Stormers.
"In terms of his philosophy on how he would like to play the game, he really sparked that inside of us and we would like to continue with that," Fleck said.
"In saying that, this is us, it's ours, he was only here for a short time. He initiated the process and we are following on with it." (Editing by John O'Brien)