Cape Town - Western Province President Thelo Wakefield admits he is worried about the Stormers’ disappointing Super Rugby season, but that he “supports coach Allister Coetzee all the way.”
Wakefield spoke to the Cape Times following a meeting of the WP Rugby Union executive committee on Monday night, where one of the issues discussed was the performance of the Stormers in 2013.
Stormers fans have vented their anger at their favourite team on social media platforms and in e-mails to this newspaper following the 21-15 defeat to the Waratahs last week, with many fans calling for Coetzee to be axed. The Stormers have won only four out of ten matches, and are in 10th position on the log with not much chance of making the playoffs. But Wakefield said on Tuesday that there have been mitigating circumstances that have affected the team.
“We are worried about the performances of the team, but are very mindful of the fact that the Stormers lost some key players due to injury. Here we can mention Peter Grant, Tiaan Liebenberg - these are Springboks. We lost Eben Etzebeth and Bryan Habana, who only recently came back,” Wakefield said.
“Schalk never played this season, and he is ill at the moment, so we need to respect that. People are also saying change the gameplan and fire the coach, but we cannot lose our heads now. We are calling for cool heads. Obviously we will sit down when they come back from tour to discuss matters and how we can resurrect the rest of the season. Luckily, Peter Grant and Tiaan Liebenberg will be back then, but now we’ve lost two crucial players again in Rynhardt and Duane. It never stops.
“The Bulls had similar problems overseas, losing players to injuries and three matches in a row on tour. The Sharks have now lost five matches in a row. If we compare the Stormers to the Cheetahs, the Cheetahs lost very few players to injury.”
Wakefield appealed to Stormers supporters to “stand by their team”, and was hopeful of a victory over the Rebels on Friday and a good run of results in the last few league matches, adding that Coetzee’s job was not under threat. “I wouldn’t say that the coach’s job is on the line really, because we cannot go into that ‘Fire the coach syndrome’. We must remember that when we won the Currie Cup, he was the best. People hailed him as a good coach. The team is going through a bad patch, and we’ve had three consecutive Super Rugby home semi-finals,” he said.
“It is not just about firing Allister Coetzee and saying that he didn’t do enough. I know the man, I know he is a good coach and I know what he is capable of. I know that he is always busy with his plans on how to beat the opposition, but things are just not working out for them. We could’ve beaten the Waratahs, and then the people would’ve said nothing. We lost by a single point to the Blues, where we nearly won it at the end. Then it would’ve been three out of three.
“Allister is contracted until the end of 2015, but at this stage, his contract is not under discussion. I can say this in bold letters, that Allister will not be fired. I managed the Stormers for 10 years overseas, and I know what the conditions are like. If we play at home and they continue to do badly, then we can sit down and say ‘Listen boys, this is it’. Any tour is a tough tour.
“We need to sit down and listen and ask what happened, what were the factors. We are fully aware of the factors that have worked against them. There is no way we can just sit down and say ‘Listen brother, you are fired. Pack your bags and leave at the end of the month’. It doesn’t work like that in professional rugby.
“We must take all factors into consideration and not just put pen to paper like the people on social media who say ‘Fire the coach’. For us as the leadership of Western Province, we need to support the team. This is our team, we must stand by them - win or lose. It’s a difficult situation to be in, and I for one will stand with Allister and support him all the way.”
Meanwhile, Stormers forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot said from Sydney on Tuesday that the team have not cast their minds to what they need to still make the playoffs, and are just focusing on beating the Rebels on Friday. The Stormers probably need to win with a bonus point by scoring four tries, something that they have done only once this year and which they failed to do last year.
They have scored only 17 tries this year, the least of all the teams.
“We haven’t tried to set unrealistic goals for the team - we will just take it game for game and see where that leads us. We need to get on to the right side of the equation, and scoring four tries would be fantastic for us.
“But it’s about being process-driven, and focusing on the small tasks. If you start worrying about four tries or this and that, it tends to affect the concentration,” Proudfoot said.
“The Rebels pack have a very high work-rate and an exceptional lineout, with a lot of jumpers. (Scott) Higginbotham has been quite robust in the last couple of games. It will be a tough challenge at set-phase time, and our maul, where we have had a lot of pressure in the last few weeks. We need to set it well and get the rewards for it.”