Coach Allister Coetzee told a high-powered Stormers delegation yesterday that the high injury toll and poor refereeing decisions were some of the reasons for the team’s disappointing 2013 season.
And Western Province Rugby Union president Thelo Wakefield reiterated following the meeting yesterday that Coetzee’s position was not under threat and was not discussed. The Stormers, who hosted three consecutive home semifinals over the last three years, are in 11th position this year, having won just four out of 11 matches. But the leadership of the Stormers are backing the current coaching team to “turn things around” ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Reds at Newlands.
Wakefield told the Cape Times that he, along with Stormers chairman Sam Dube and managing director Rob Wagner, had met with head coach Coetzee, his assistants Matthew Proudfoot and Robbie Fleck, as well as captain Jean de Villiers and team manager Chippie Solomon to discuss the performance of the team.
“I think we had very fruitful discussions this afternoon. The purpose of the discussion was basically how to get the campaign back on track, and to find out what the obstacles were overseas. The reasons offered were in some cases poor refereeing, and then also injuries on tour to key players and in key departments,” Wakefield said.
“I’m very confident that the coaching staff will do their utmost best to satisfy the fans this weekend. There was no talk of Allister’s position at all, no talk of any position. Look, at the end of the season, we will sit down and do an evaluation of what we have in terms of expertise around the team. If we must reinforce, we will reinforce. But that has not been discussed and is a topic for another occasion.
“Let’s finish this season and see how far we get with what we have, and then take it from there. Hopefully we can turn it around this Saturday. I once again call on all our fans to stand by us during this difficult period, as I fully understand the coach’s frustrations.”
Wakefield said that the injuries to flyhalf Peter Grant and hooker Tiaan Liebenberg had affected the team significantly. “Allister mentioned that up until now, he’s had 17 injuries all together, with very senior guys like Elstadt, Vermeulen, Liebenberg and Peter Grant. These are the players who form the backbone of the team, the most experienced guys. Many of them were Springboks, like Peter Grant, Eben Etzebeth, Bryan Habana and now Duane Vermeulen,” said Wakefield.
“Peter Grant organises the backline together with Jean de Villiers. A person like Tiaan in the pack, who takes leadership among the forwards. Allister assured the leadership of the union that the commitment and the spirit of the team are still very high. I can read from their body language that they are committed, but that they are in a tight spot as far as injuries are concerned.
“They do believe in themselves still, and I told them that they have to look at their stakeholders also, of which the spectators are the most important as these are the people who spend money to come and watch them. We also have to take into account the factors that worked negatively against the team. One can never wish away the fact that we had 17 injuries, which is a nightmare for any team.”
And the “nightmare” continues on the injury front ahead of the Reds game, as centre Juan de Jongh and tighthead prop Frans Malherbe are believed to have joined the wounded list and won’t play on Saturday, while lock Andries Bekker is also understood to be a doubtful starter. De Jongh took a couple of hard knocks during last week’s game against the Rebels. Coetzee is set to give a full injury report on his squad today following practice in Bellville.
They join the latest Stormers casualties Deon Fourie (ribs), Pat Cilliers (ankle) and Scarra Ntubeni (hamstring) on the injury list. Fourie, who has been nursing the rib injury in recent weeks, is set to miss at least the next two matches against the Reds on Saturday and against the Southern Kings.
The Stormers didn’t train yesterday after only arriving in Cape Town on Saturday night from Australia. But the Cape side may welcome back Tiaan Liebenberg against the Reds after the Springbok hooker recovered from an elbow injury that has kept him on the sidelines since he played against the Brumbies on March 23. His lack of gametime, though, may see Martin Bezuidenhout hold on to the No 2 jersey. Coetzee said after the Rebels game that lock De Kock Steenkamp (chest) will also return against the Reds.
AAP reports that Wallaby wing Digby Ioane has flown back to Australia and will miss the Stormers game with a knee injury he picked up against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week. Ioane expressed his disappointment on Twitter yesterday, stating “Wish I was in Cape Town rite now”.
Ioane’s loss could open the door for centre Ben Tapuai to return to the starting team and Chris Feauai-Sautia to shift out to the wing, as the Reds have not called up a replacement for Ioane.
Hamilton: Chiefs v Crusaders (9.35am), Melbourne: Reds v Waratahs (11.40am).
Auckland: Blues v Brumbies (9.35am), Perth: Force v Highlanders (11.40am), Port Elizabeth: Southern Kings v Cheetahs (3pm), Newlands: Stormers v Reds (5.05pm), Durban: Sharks v Bulls (7.10pm).
Bye: Hurricanes. - Cape Times