Stormers endure worst Super Rugby season ever

Under-fire Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck chats to presenter Robbie Kempson before the Super Rugby game against the Bulls at Newlands Rugby Stadium, Cape Town on May 5 2018.
Under-fire Stormers head coach Robbie Fleck chats to presenter Robbie Kempson before the Super Rugby game against the Bulls at Newlands Rugby Stadium, Cape Town on May 5 2018.
Image: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

After a season that started with optimism and promise‚ the Stormers’ 2018 Super Rugby campaign has unravelled to become the worst in the franchise’s history.

Saturday’s 25-14 loss to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires was the Stormers’ 10th defeat in 2018 and the first time that the Cape side has suffered as many losses in a single season.

After 15 games‚ this represents a 66.6% losing ratio this year.

How a team with as much talent as the Stormers has slumped to such a low‚ is not easily explained.

Obviously coach Robbie Fleck and his staff are in the firing line because they have overseen the malaise‚ but the Stormers’ problems are not one-dimensional.

Although the Stormers have good numbers in some areas of the game‚ the basic fundamental of defence has let them down again this season.

They have conceded 55 tries in 2018 – only the Sunwolves (80) and the Reds (61) have conceded more and unsurprisingly they are below the Stormers on the standings.

Last year they conceded 61 tries in 15 games‚ so the improvement has been negligible.

While leaking tries is a problem‚ scoring them hasn’t been a simple task either with the Stormers only crossing the line 43 times this season.

Again‚ the Sunwolves (42) and Reds (38) are the only teams in Super Rugby that have scored fewer tries than the Stormers.

Injuries‚ which robbed the Stormers of Springboks Eben Etzebeth (for the entire campaign)‚ hooker Bongi Mbonambi for 13 rounds and prop Frans Malherbe for nine rounds.

They have had a host of other injuries such as lock JD Schickerling‚ flyhalf JP du Plessis‚ scrumhalf Jano Vermaak and wing Seabelo Senatla also missing large chunks of the competition.

Selection consistency has been impossible.

The fixture list saw the Stormers play six away games in their first nine outings‚ which is never easy.

But no wins away from home this season is unacceptable. The Jaguares showed with four wins in a row in Australasia‚ nothing is impossible.

Fleck‚ who guided the Stormers to two play-offs in his first two years in charge‚ still has one more year to go on his four-year contract.

He is now under massive pressure for his job‚ but the reality is that firing Fleck won’t stop the decline because Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU)‚ the Stormers’ parent union‚ is a mess too.

The Stormers’ woes have played out against a chaotic backdrop at the union.

WP Rugby‚ the professional arm of the WPRFU‚ is in a legal battle with former commercial partners Aerios. They are disputing the liquidation of the WP (Pty) Ltd at the end of 2016.

Aerios is demanding R250-million in lost earnings while Remgro‚ the multinational company that offered bridging finance to the union in late 2017‚ is calling in its R44-million loan.

The organisation is unprofessionally run in the boardroom and naturally that is filtering down to performances on the field.

The Stormers kit is a homemade brand after Adidas ended a long association with the union. Players have complained about lack of training kit and other basics expected of a pro team.

Publicly Fleck will take responsibility for results‚ as he should.

But if anyone thinks firing the coach and hiring a new one (when the union is in financial trouble) will solve the issues‚ they will be disappointed.

WPRFU and the Stormers need a complete overhaul‚ which should start at the top‚ because changing the coaches would be akin to putting a plaster on a gash requiring dozens of stitches.

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