End of the road for Stormers in 2018

20 May 2018 - 13:48
By Craig Ray
JJ Engelbrecht of Stormers moves the ball up during the Super Rugby match between Sunwolves and Stormers at Mong Kok Stadium on May 19, 2018 in Hong Kong.
Image: Power Sport Images/Getty Images) JJ Engelbrecht of Stormers moves the ball up during the Super Rugby match between Sunwolves and Stormers at Mong Kok Stadium on May 19, 2018 in Hong Kong.

The Stormers could mathematically still qualify for the Super Rugby play-offs, but in reality their campaign is over with three matches to play.

Losing 26-23 to the Sunwolves in Hong Kong on Saturday, the Stormers’ eighth defeat in 13 outings this season and their seventh out of seven away from home, signals the end of the road.

Sunwolves flyhalf Hayden Parker coolly slotted an 84th minute drop-goal to win the match after the Stormers lost the ball inside the home team’s half. It was an error that was all too familiar throughout the game.

It was a deserved first win over the Stormers for the Japanese franchise and despite the tight scoreline, the Sunwolves were the superior team throughout the match.

That is the most worrying aspect of the loss – the fact that the Stormers were outplayed in most departments.

They struggled in the sweltering conditions but both teams had to endure them.

Coach Robbie Fleck is going to be in the firing line, particularly as this is his third year at the Stormers’ helm and if anything, they have gone backwards in 2018.

Recriminations will come and if Western Province rugby is serious, the entire structure from the president down, needs to be overhauled because for a team as talented as the Stormers, results in 2018 have been lamentable.

An unkind fixture list that saw the Stormers play six away games in their first nine outings meant they started on the back foot. Injuries to key players have also hurt, but most teams have long injury lists. The Chiefs had 18 players missing against the Sharks at the weekend.

The Stormers’ biggest weaknesses has been defence, as 48 tries conceded in 13 matches indicates. It’s an issue they have failed to adequately address and only the Sunwolves have conceded more tries in 2018.

Fleck tried to sound defiant after losing to the Sunwolves, but it’s clear he is scrambling for answers and not finding them. The same excuses recur weekly and while he is not solely to blame, he is the man at the helm and the one responsible for results.

“The Sunwolves played with a lot more confidence than we did in the conditions,” Fleck said. “I have to say well played to them and especially to Hayden Parker, hitting that drop-goal with his right foot [Parker is left-footed].

“We made too many handling errors to put them under any sort of pressure. They had more confidence to move it around a bit.

“This result won’t change our approach because we want to win every game we play. But in terms of making the play-offs it does make it tough for us because other results will have to go our way.

“We are pretty devastated but we will have to win next week at Newlands and reassess over the June break.”

The Lions, who top the SA Conference standings, are the opponents at Newlands next week. Given that they have lost six matches themselves this season, there is no guarantee that the Stormers won’t cause an upset at home.