Gavin Rich – SuperSport
Cape Town – The Stormers’ 27-16 win over the Sharks that ended a troubled season for the Cape side left coach Robbie Fleck in a bitter-sweet mood afterwards.
While he said the win was a nice way to finish the season and it was good to sound off the campaign on a high, it left him reflecting on what might have been for his team had just a bit of luck gone their way in earlier matches.
“In the first half of this game we showed what this team is capable of doing, but we regret losing to the Waratahs, and to the Sunwolves, and also the home Lions game, which could easily have gone our way,” Fleck said, as quoted by SuperSport.com.
“Out of those three games, just two wins would have sufficed and been enough to put us into the playoffs.”
Indeed, there are other games that the Stormers can reflect back on after a season of narrow margins. The first round game against the Sharks in Durban was close and could have gone either way, while a yellow card that the Stormers considered debatable cost them when they were on the comeback trail after a bad start against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
But of course every team in the competition will have games they look back on which they might have won, and Fleck was honest enough to admit that the game that had just been played, the one against the Sharks, could easily have turned out differently.
“We had a bit of luck for a change. They scored two tries that looked good initially but then the TMO called them up for a forward pass and an obstruction. On a different day those tries might have stood.”
Fleck believes the trend this year has been for 50/50 calls to go against the Stormers, and if you look at the season as a whole, he might not be wrong when he says his side didn’t always have luck on their side, starting with a draw that sent them overseas in the early weeks and then presented them with three tough away derbies in a row soon after their return. There were also the injuries, starting with the one that kept Springbok second row behemoth Eben Etzebeth from playing a single game, that blighted the team’s progress, particularly in those early weeks when they toured.
“I think our year has been well documented, it was just nice to finish on a high, though the game itself was a common theme for the season in that we built up a good halftime lead but then let them back into it in the second,” said Fleck.
The Stormers didn’t gain their anticipated forward ascendancy against the Sharks pack, and though they did appear to shade the collisions before halftime, it was the Sharks who appeared to have more attacking opportunities in the game. Fleck saw that as further signs of improvement in his team’s defensive game, something his men were criticised for earlier in the season.
“Our defence has improved. In this game we won because we just took our chances better. We executed and finished, something we have struggled with this season. Damian de Allende made an early line-break and it led to a try. We have done things like that on numerous occasions this year without it leading to anything. We have done some exceptional work building up phases, and then execution has let us down.
“In the first half we played the rugby we want to play. We were dominant in our carries and we were getting over the advantage line. We scored three tries before the break. It was proof of what we can do.”
Fleck said the coaches would take some time getting their review of the season together before plotting the way forward for next year.
“We aren’t playing this week because it is a bye but officially the season is still on the go,” Fleck joked.
“I am not sure yet (what the off-season plans are). We will do the review and then make some decisions.”
The Stormers are finishing the season two weeks before their finish in recent years, when they have bowed out in the first round of the playoff phase, and with the Currie Cup limited to one round and the Western Province team out of the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, the players are going to get more rest than maybe they need before the pre-season starts in November.