Stormers coach Robbie Fleck is refusing to throw in the towel on his team’s play-off ambitions despite losing their seventh match of the Super Rugby campaign on Saturday when they went down 15-9 to the Chiefs at Newlands.
The loss has left the Stormers last in the South African conference on 23 points after 12 games, but they are only eight points behind the log-leading Lions.
The two sides meet in a fortnight and that match could have a huge bearing on play-off places. But first the Stormers travel to Hong Kong on Saturday to take on the Sunwolves and claiming a maximum five points there is a priority.
"We have four games left and we’re still in it‚" Fleck said. "It’s a funny competition this year. No one is guaranteed anything yet and you have to fight for every point. This conference is going down to the wire.
"For us every game is a must-win and we have to approach it that way. We aren’t thinking about the Lions yet because we get on the plane to prepare to beat the Sunwolves.
"There is a lot of rugby to be played with New Zealand teams having to play each other‚ so a lot can still change. We will take our best team to Hong Kong because every game is a quarterfinal and there will be no other mindset but trying to win every game."
Fleck was tight-lipped when asked to comment on referee Mike Fraser’s performance. Fraser failed to spot blocking runs by Chiefs players, as well as awarding a late penalty try which decided the contest.
The Stormers were penalised for illegal scrumming 5m from their own tryline in the 66th minute‚ prompting Fraser to award a penalty try.
Fleck chose not to comment but asked people to draw their own conclusions.
On the day, the Stormers scrum conceded four penalties‚ and after a season during which they have dominated opponents‚ they were made to look second best. Although no one from the Stormers said it there appeared to be some confusion as to how the Chiefs scrum could legally be so dominant.
"Their scrum has been good all year and we knew that‚" Fleck said. "I will have to have a look at those scrums again.
"Certainly, the one that directly led to the penalty try was a good one from them. But the ones before that were debatable. I don’t quite know where we lost it. The energy was going both ways.
"We didn’t convert the few chances we had and we also worked hard to turnover possession at one stage‚ and gave it immediately back to them.
"That led to the penalties and scrums that ended in the penalty try. I will say that both defences were good and this was certainly our best defensive performance of the season.
"They got a lucky bounce for the first try [scored by Anton Leinert-Brown]‚ but you have to give them credit for their powerful scrum.
"I also have to recognise their defence held up when we created chances. When we got in behind them they got their line back intact quickly and were able to put us under pressure. It was a typical battle against the Chiefs," Fleck said.
Chiefs coach Colin Cooper praised his team’s defence and scrum. "Our front row has been going well all season and we were well prepared for what the Stormers would bring‚" he said.
"The scrum was a focus area for us and was about holding them and not letting them scrum for penalties as they have been doing this season.
"I guess when you have [lock] Brodie Retallick in that engine room‚ driving them hard‚ he gives the necessary experience when we need it. It was a game of chess out there.
"The Stormers have scored the most tries off turnover this season and we focused hard to make sure we weren’t caught out," Cooper said.
"We respected them‚ but also made sure we were in line‚ stayed connected‚ made our tackles and didn’t give away silly penalties," Cooper said.