Stormers coach Robbie Fleck and his assistants are set to broaden their professional skills with a long road trip to study other professional setups.
Fleck will be accompanied by Paul Feeney (skills)‚ Russell Winter (forwards) and Steph du Toit (conditioning).
After losing the Super Rugby quarterfinal 17-11 to the Chiefs at Newlands last Saturday‚ Fleck and his management team will have a short break before beginning preparations for 2018.
The entire 2017 season will be reviewed and assessed‚ and Fleck and his three lieutenants will attempt to find the secret to closing the gap on New Zealand teams in the southern hemisphere’s toughest tournament.
Fleck’s team have come a long way from 2016 when they were humiliated 60-21 by the Chiefs in the quarterfinals. That humbling experience forced the Stormers to re-evaluate everything they were doing and led to some drastic changes.
Conditioning and skills improvement were the core focuses, and on that score the Stormers have come a long way in a short time. They started a three-year plan with the goal of winning Super Rugby by 2019. So far they can argue they are on track‚ after winning their conference and hosting a quarterfinal. But the bare minimum in 2018 would have to be a semifinal appearance.
"As coaches, we will go back to the drawing board in our analysis of the campaign‚" Fleck said. "We will assess what worked for us and what hasn’t and we will again travel the world to tap into the best expertise we can to see what we can do to improve our team.
"We will come back and present a good plan for 2018 to the players," the coach said.
Fleck and Du Toit travelled extensively after the 2016 setback and gleaned useful insights‚ most notably from time spent with England coach Eddie Jones. The information thus gained was used to address skills and conditioning deficits.
Later in 2017 Fleck and the coaches will spend time with departing Chiefs coach Dave Rennie at his new post as head coach of the Glasgow Warriors.
Fleck is a great admirer of Rennie and the Chiefs‚ and the New Zealander has become something of a long-distance mentor to the Stormers coach.
"The most exciting thing is that we have made a lot of progress this year‚" Fleck said. "We are only losing three or four players to others clubs [Juan de Jongh‚ Cheslin Kolbe and Oli Kebble are heading overseas] and the bulk of the squad is staying behind.
"The players are excited because they have seen what they can do against the best sides in the tournament.
"If they work hard and we build as a team, we will become incredibly competitive.
"Of course we are disappointed that we lost to the Chiefs, but we have to look at the positives and there are far more of those than negatives. There are one or two weaknesses we have to work on.
"In 2016 the Chiefs exposed some glaring shortcomings in our approach and we managed to sort most of those out in a tight time frame."