Johannesburg – Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said he was gutted for his players after their dramatic one-point defeat by the Canterbury Crusaders on Saturday.
Having looked set to defy the odds and the weight of history, the men from Cape Town went down 13-14 to the multiple Super Rugby-winning franchise.
The score was deadlocked at 3-3 at half-time, but the Stormers were leading 13-3 shortly before the 70 minute mark.
However, a late Crusaders try, followed by a penalty goal in the 76th minute, saw the hosts take the lead and hold out for their first victory of 2014.
Speaking from Christchurch in the early hours of Sunday morning (local time), Coetzee told www.iamastormer.com: “I'm gutted for the guys – the effort they put in – they deserved the victory.
“The game was there for the taking but it just slipped away from us in those final 12 minutes. In the end, some of our own errors cost us again, we left two tries out there for instance, but after an effort like that you cannot help but feel for the guys.”
One player who will be hurting more than most is experienced flanker Schalk Burger, who delivered an all-action display in his first Super Rugby appearance in New Zealand since 2011.
“I was happy with all the players, but Schalk, in particular, had a strong performance,” said Coetzee.
“He will be hurting more than most, but it's up to us to get up emotionally for our next game Ä against the defending champion Chiefs just six days away.”
The result aside, Coetzee was happy with all aspects of the Stormers' game, but he singled out the character shown by all the players who took to the field in Christchurch.
“I've said it before, but this team has immense character,” said Coetzee.
“I thought the guys were unbelievable in all departments out there in what was an unbelievable performance, but their character stood out the most.”
As far as injuries are concerned, Coetzee will be sweating over the well-being of three key men, hooker Scarra Ntubeni (calf muscle), prop Pat Cilliers (rib cartilage) and fullback Jaco Taute (AC Joint).
“It's hard to say right now, we will know more on Monday about Scarra, Pat and Jaco.
“Scarra is the biggest concern at this stage – his calf muscle could be torn. Jaco, like with Siya Kolisi's AC Joint, could take a week or two.
“So he is 50-50 at this stage for the Chiefs match.” – Sapa