CAPE TOWN - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says their 17-11 quarter-final defeat to the Chiefs at the weekend feels worse than last year’s 60-21 loss to the same team.
At Newlands on Saturday, the Stormers trailed by one point (11-12) until the 76th minute, when Shaun Stevenson scored the Chiefs’ only try after a period of relentless pressure by his team.
Throughout the game, both teams showed rock-solid defence, and the Stormers also smothered the opposition with their line speed at times, which was a big improvement from the defensive efforts they put on show in their three games leading up to the playoffs.
But it’s the fact that they came so close that made this defeat “tougher to swallow” for Fleck’s team.
“I think it does feel worse than last year’s loss to the Chiefs. We were just saying in the change-room afterwards that last year’s loss was pretty humiliating,” Fleck said during the post-match press conference.
“There was a feeling that this year is a lot, lot tougher to swallow, especially with how far we’ve come in the last 12 months.”
The Stormers have sure made a lot of progress since that quarter-final horror, and while Fleck said he wasn’t sure if “the best team won”, he was positive about what his team has shown this season.
“I don’t know if the best team won, but we are certainly a better outfit than what we were 12 months ago. So it’s a tough loss for us. It’s been a long journey for us. I’m happy with where we are with our game at the moment,” he said.
“We’ve shown massive improvement, and there are lots of good signs. This team can only get better.”
There were a few errors made by both sides, and the Stormers also lost two lineouts early on, but their set-piece improved as the game progressed.
But they could have done more on attack, and there were times where they could have kicked for touch and gone for the lineout close to the try line, especially when the Chiefs were one man down after skipper Sam Cane was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle on Stormers wing Dillyn Leyds.
Fleck, however, said that it was tough to point out where they went wrong at Newlands.
“It was a difficult game. There were errors from both sides, so it’s quite tough to pinpoint where we went wrong. We were one point down with five minutes to go, so I can’t say specifically that we got this wrong and that wrong,” the Stormers coach said.
“Our mauls went effectively and our scrum started to dominate at the end of the game. Defensively, to keep the Chiefs scoreless with five minutes to go. So, you can’t fault the defence.”
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie praised the “fitter” Stormers after the game, saying that they’ve made some good strides in terms of their playing style.
“It was a real tussle, but we got the job done on the back of impressive defence, I think,” Rennie said.
“I reckon they’re fitter and they’ve got a much better understanding of the game they’re trying to play. They’ve also got a few good young kids coming through.”