CAPE TOWN – How long is long enough?
How much time should a coach be given with a team before they reap results? For how long should mediocre results and performances be tolerated in the name of a “process-driven” approach? When should patience with that process run out?
Following the Stormers’ poor Super Rugby campaign, those are only some of the questions that can be asked.
Under Robbie Fleck, the Stormers have managed to win just six of their 16 games this season - a stat that saw them officially get knocked out of play-off contention against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires two weeks ago.
Following the Stormers’ 27-16 win against the Sharks at Newlands on Saturday, Fleck said that it was pleasing to end on a high note, to finish with some pride. And that might be true, but it doesn’t erase their season record.
In the build-up to their last game of the 2018 season, assistant coach Paul Feeney said that 2019 has always been the year that they’ve been targeting to put in a real push for Super Rugby silverware. He also said that they had worked on and experimented with a number of things this season, and also admitted that some of those things didn’t work out.
So there has been a big focus on the process. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of results. And that’s the one thing we haven’t seen nearly enough of.
How the Stormers have performed this season is far from acceptable. Fleck has been in charge of the Stormers for three years now, and although he has said that he wants to take the Stormers on a different path, the fact remains that even though he has the players to work with, he hasn’t been able to bring the best out of them as a group.
It would be easy to refer to the Lions of old and how long it took them to become the South African powerhouse in recent years in an effort to sympathise with the Stormers. And in doing so it becomes easy, and perhaps even understandable, to say that Fleck and co need more time. But that was a different situation.
The way in which Fleck has sometimes discussed their season has also been concerning.
Too often have we heard that there have been a number of close margins and that luck hasn’t been on their side. Fleck recently also said that they could have got a spot in the quarter-finals had they won the games against the Waratahs, the Sunwolves and the Lions. Point is they didn’t, and going for what-ifs and an “it was a close loss” attitude doesn’t exactly show a lot of ownership.
It would be unfair to suggest that the Stormers’ troubles begin and end with Fleck, though.
In recent times the Western Province Rugby Union have made headlines for all the wrong reasons, and their financial state surely would have played a role. It’s not hard to guess how off-the-field issues impact the smooth running of a system. And that situation in itself is another one that should raise further questions about the men running the operations in the background.
And when you look at the possibility of replacing Fleck, it doesn’t seem very likely with WP’s money woes.
The Stormers’ problems seem to come from all corners, and it’s obviously not just their on-field disappointments that are a cause for concern. It goes further than that. So the logical thing would be to address every single one of those issues and come up with a solution, quickly. Otherwise every season from now on will again be a series of empty promises.
Sometimes the score doesn’t accurately reflect a game. Sometimes things aren’t as bad as they seem. But the fact that the Stormers could very well slump to their worst overall Super Rugby ranking ever (if the Bulls get a point this weekend) perfectly reflects their season. It really is that bad.