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South African sides embrace Australasian challenges

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Sunday, February 11, 2018    Getty Images

They told sport24.co.za they also have to cope with resuming the tough tours to Australasia involving playing the different styles associated with New Zealand and Australian sides.

Stormers coach Robbie Fleck found that more of a benefit than a problem.

"In the old days, we used to go to New Zealand and Australia for the full four weeks, and we actually enjoyed it because we found our groove as we got used to the environment over the four weeks," he said.

New Lions coach Swys de Bruin said they were happy with the format which looked fair to all teams.

"It's definitely more strength versus strength, and you have to fight more to win. No disrespect to anyone, but, in the past, some of the games you knew you would win. Last year, we toured three weeks and four the year before. The extra week makes it difficult, so it will be tougher this year. But we like it tough, so it'll be no problem for us," he said.

Bulls coach John Mitchell said the format made no difference to his side.

"We're just keen to get out there and start playing some rugby. However, it is good to be playing in a tournament with the strongest teams and to be able to measure ourselves against them," he said.

Robert du Preez, the Sharks coach, said they had no issues with the format and welcomed the chance to play both Australian and New Zealand teams.

"This format allows teams to test themselves against the best of the best in the southern hemisphere.

"I don't view the extra travel as a negative. We quite like the fact that we will be on tour for four weeks. Tours give teams the opportunity to bond and to build team culture, which adds to the team spirit and vibe in the camp," he said.

In terms of preparation for the season, Fleck said the Stormers had continued to bring in new training techniques.

"The game is getting quicker and quicker, and the players need to be better conditioned because the ball is in play for 48 minutes and is changing year on year. There has been more rugby-specific training," he said.

Now in his second season with the side, Fleck said they had implemented certain things last year that had helped the side become a more attacking team, however, they hadn't toured well and they would be addressing that this year.

De Bruin said the Lions' preparation had been hampered by having players either in Europe, Japan or injured.

"Player management is going to be tough. When they gave me the job, I knew it was going to be a challenge, but all my life I've loved challenges," he said.

Mitchell said he had been working to have his players healthy and robust and they were now creating a team culture.

"This is a period of improving ourselves and getting better every day, while trying to become consistent in our efforts," he said.

Du Preez said the Sharks had been focusing on conditioning, improving skills and their functional play.

"The team has set high standards during the preseason and the warm-up matches. We want to continue to build on this and we believe that we have the squad depth to be competitive," he said.