Stormers under a dark cloud but still have a chance to make the play-offs
It has been a bleak season for the Cape Town side and boardroom squabbles have made things worse for coach Robbie Fleck
The Stormers’ 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 at the hands of 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 10m 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. 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 South African 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 them. 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 has battled manfully to build a team and style against a poisonous backdrop at a union where boardroom battles are as familiar as defeats on the field.
Fleck is moving on at the end of the season‚ and that’s probably best for him and the team‚ although his successor, John Dobson, is inheriting a poisoned chalice.
There is a good coach lurking inside Fleck‚ but he is burnt-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 Business Day Fleck was warned that losing to the Jaguares would result in an early exit. That is ludicrous now. If the board was going to change coaches mid-season it should have been after the Stormers’ Australasian tour‚ which 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. 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’s apparent stress-related collapse at the weekend. Officially there has been no word on the situation from Western Province‚ but News24 reported Zacks was admitted to hospital for treatment before being sent home.
It raises concerns about a union where the CEO is so frazzled‚ but this has been a difficult year in a catalogue of challenging years for WP and Stormers rugby. The best thing they could do now is to see it through to the end of the campaign by maintaining the status quo and rebuilding when the season has run its course.