Stormers have to stay the course despite poor return

06 May 2019 - 16:52 By Craig Ray
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck peps up his team.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck peps up his team.
Image: GALLO IMAGES

The Stormers’ 2019 Super Rugby season makes for bleak reading on many fronts‚ yet they still have a chance of making the play-offs despite a 36% winning record in 2019.

They are only four points off Conference leaders the Bulls and Sharks.

That says more about the general lack of quality and overall inconsistency of the SA Conference than it does about the Stormers.

Saturday’s 30-25 defeat against the Jaguares in Argentina was not entirely unexpected considering how difficult it is to win in Buenos Aires‚ but it was infuriating because it was another game the Stormers should have won.

They had their chances‚ especially at the back end of the match with a lineout 10 metres from the opposition line and with the Jaguares down to 14 men.

But‚ just as on several crucial occasions earlier this season‚ they botched the lineout and the chance was gone.

Coach Robbie Fleck has often lamented after a game that opportunities were created but poor execution let them down.

It was the same story in Buenos Aires and it’s likely to be the same tale in at least one of their remaining five matches.

Seldom has a team created so much and come away with so little as the Stormers‚ not just this season‚ but over the past few seasons.

It’s an odd phenomenon to judge Fleck on as well. When it comes to carving out scoring chances‚ no SA team does it better‚ yet in the final scramble to score and finish moves‚ the Stormers are almost comically inept.

Poor last passes‚ bad options‚ lateral running or simple mistakes such as handling errors repeatedly cost the Stormers.

If they had converted half of their scoring chances‚ they would have been running away with the SA Conference.

It’s as if the players have lost all confidence when it comes to making a final‚ clinical decision. Up to that point the Stormers are as good as any of the best teams in the competition.

Fleck has battled to find a way to make his side’s finishing more ruthless and after nearly four seasons at the helm‚ he is unlikely to find the elixir now.

He was thrown into the job when he was young and unready and has battled manfully to build a team and style against a poisonous backdrop at a union where boardroom battles are as familiar as Stormers defeats.

Fleck is moving on at the end of the season‚ and that’s probably best for he and the team‚ although his successor John Dobson is inheriting a poisoned chalice.

There is a good coach lurking inside Fleck‚ but he is burned out by the incessant infighting at the union where meddling presidents and board members during his tenure haven’t left the running of professional rugby to the rugby professionals.

Insiders have told TimesLive Fleck was warned that losing to the Jaguares would result in an early exit. That is ludicrous now.

If the board were going to change coaches mid-season it should have been after the Stormers’ Australasian tour‚ which also marked the halfway point of the campaign.

Removing the most experienced coach in the set up with five games to go‚ would only succeed in embarrassing Fleck and tarnishing his reputation more than necessary.

Out of everyone at the union‚ he has at least been loyal to the team and his players. Just about everyone above him‚ has not. He deserves to depart with some dignity.

It was also worrying to learn of CEO Paul Zacks’ apparent stress-related collapse at the weekend.

Officially there has been no word on the situation from WP‚ but News24 reported Zacks has been hospitalised and released.

It raises concern about a union where the CEO is so frazzled‚ but this has been a difficult year in an ongoing catalogue of challenging years for WP and Stormers rugby.

The best thing they could now is to see it through until the end of the campaign by maintaining the status quo and rebuilding when the season has run its course.

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