CAPE TOWN – Robbie Fleck looks an exasperated man. Even the silky sheen in his silver top seems to have disappeared. It is just white now.
The toils of watching his team roll on from one defeat to another seem to be taking its toll on the 43-year-old. After the loss to the Blues, he defiantly stated it was the Stormers’ “best performance” of the season.
He simply cannot keep his chin up anymore though. He is trying to remain positive that a stretch of home games upon return from their Australasian tour will be the tonic for the turnaround, but even he seems to be at his wits’ end.
“We didn’t play well. We didn’t deserve to win. We are pretty disappointed,” Fleck told the media after the Stormers’ 24-12 defeat to the Reds on Friday. “I felt that we created enough, certainly in the first 20 minutes. The final execution let us down, like it has in the previous few weeks. But we’re not really proud of that effort in the second half. Too many errors, too many missed tackles.”
Fleck knows the buck stops with him. He certainly is reminded often enough on social media where the vitriol was intense this past weekend. But is it really the former Springbok centre’s fault when players simply cannot catch, pass and miss regulation tackles?
The tourists were guilty of slipping off 37 tackles that allowed the Reds to make 799 meters – in comparison to 484 – courtesy of 13 line-breaks. And when the Stormers had the ball, they committed 15 handling errors. That’s virtual suicide, especially when playing with 14-men for a 10-minute period like the Stormers were forced to when captain Siya Kolisi was sin-binned on the stroke of halftime.
“The yellow card was critical. Credit to the Reds. The first 10 minutes of the second half, they capitalised on the opportunity and they did well to win it. They were pretty good during that period and exploited that advantage.
We defended poorly. It was always going to be a bit of catch-up after that. It is a bit tough to swallow that,” Fleck said.
The next challenge that awaits the Stormers is the in-form Rebels in Melbourne on Friday. Dave Wessels’ team are currently leading the Australian conference, with the mercurial Quade Cooper pulling the strings.
To compound matters for the visitors is their growing injury list coupled with the need to rest Kolisi under the Bok game management regulations. Kolisi is on a flight back to Cape Town and will miss the clash against the Rebels. He will be joined on the trip home by Chris van Zyl and utility back SP Marais.
Van Zyl sustained a serious back injury in Friday’s defeat to the Reds and will be ruled out for up to six weeks, while Marais has a hip flexor injury.
Centre Dan Kriel and hooker Chad Solomon have flown out to join the team in Melbourne.