Beleaguered Stormers coach Robbie Fleck still has the backing of the Western Province board after a poor first half of the 2018 Super Rugby campaign.
The Stormers have lost five of eight matches – all away – and have leaked a disappointing 37 tries in those eight matches.
A swathe of injuries that have cost the side key players has not helped the situation‚ while the fixture list has also been difficult‚ with six away matches in their first nine outings. They have their first bye this weekend.
The Stormers have been without Bok captain Eben Etzebeth and tighthead prop Frans Malherbe the entire campaign. They have‚ at various times, lost hooker Bongi Mbonambi‚ scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage‚ flank Cobus Wiese‚ lock JD Schickerling‚ fullback SP Marais‚ wing Dillyn Leyds and only recently saw hooker Scarra Ntubeni and scrumhalf Jano Vermaak return after missing the first six matches.
Fleck‚ who has a contract until the end of the 2019 season‚ met Western Province union president Thelo Wakefield and director of rugby Gert Smal on Monday to assess the situation.
Meetings between Fleck and Smal are a regular occurrence‚ but the presence of the union’s president indicated that the riot act was read.
Wakefield confirmed that Fleck still had the board’s backing. He told Netwerk 24: "It was a very long meeting without emotion. We identified areas in our game that need serious attention. But what became clear was that injuries to key players played a big role.
"It limits the coach’s choices and it means that the [rest of the] players have to play every week. [Tighthead prop] Wilco Louw is a good example of a player that is not getting rest. On paper and in key positions we’re a very young team."
But Wakefield did issue a veiled threat via the same outlet: "We can’t afford empty stands at Newlands. We want to sell suites and tickets and build our support base. And we won’t achieve that with the rugby we’ve been playing."
Although there were not high expectations that the Stormers would win matches on their Australasian tour, where they lost to the Waratahs‚ Crusaders and Highlanders‚ the defeats to the Bulls (33-23) at Loftus and the Lions (52-31) at Ellis Park were alarming.
In those two matches the Stormers appeared lacklustre for large parts and conceded too many soft tries.
Fleck admitted the performances were substandard.
A bye might be exactly what the Stormers need before their next match‚ another away fixture against the Sharks in Durban. After that they have five home games in their final seven fixtures with away matches against the Jaguares and Sunwolves to follow.
The Stormers should also see the return of Etzebeth and Malherbe in May‚ while the Lions, the pacesetters in the South African conference, embark on a four-match Australasian tour next week.
Fleck remained defiant that with a run of home games to come‚ the Stormers could turn around their season.
For now he still enjoys the board’s backing‚ but wins are vital if he wants the situation to remain that way.