CAPE TOWN – If the Stormers’ consistency throughout the season had been as good as the character they showed against the Lions, it would have been a very different Super Rugby season for Robbie Fleck and his team.
The Stormers had to win Saturday’s Newlands fixture and also hope for some other results to go their way in order to hold onto a slim chance of making the playoffs, but it wasn’t to be.
The Stormers have looked really good at times this season - like in their home games against the Bulls and Blues - but they haven’t been able to perform like that consistently.
But against Swys de Bruin’s crew they produced one of their better displays of rugby - especially on attack - and they looked in control of the South African derby ... until a red card to wing Raymond Rhule sparked a Lions surge in the second half.
The hosts were also shown yellow by referee Nick Bryant after he’d issued a team warning, and that took the Stormers to 13 men and their third card, after outside centre JJ Engelbrecht was sin-binned in the first half for a dangerous tackle on Andries Coetzee.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, the hosts put up a fight so good that they could almost be forgiven for their discipline, but Lions flyer Madosh Tambwe made sure that the Stormers wouldn’t be rewarded for the courageous display with a late converted try. And although it obviously wasn’t the result the Stormers wanted, Fleck praised their efforts following the game.
“Generally, we could’ve been better but we showed some great character. To stay within touching distance for half an hour with 14 men was a great effort,” he said. “We haven’t been lucky this year, but the guys kept fighting. When you’re defending with 13 men it’s going to take its toll.
“The attitude of the players showed that culturally we are strong, they play for the jersey and as a coach you have to be happy with that. The character shown by our team was unbelievable. We deserved our lead at halftime and I still believed we could’ve won that game despite the red card.”
As much as Fleck was pleased with the effort, he also lamented his charges’ discipline, although he didn’t agree with all Bryant’s calls.
“Our discipline was an issue. We spoke before the match that if we gave away too many penalties we would allow the Lions into the game. Look some of the penalties against us were 50/50 calls. But we had a red card and two yellows which makes it difficult. I can’t argue with (replacement loose forward) Jaco Coetzee’s yellow coming after a warning but in JJ’s case the player did jump into the tackle and it was quite tough to control that.
“Look, it’s small margins but if you look at it from a safety point of view, if you connect to the head, it’s a red. So, I can’t argue with that decision,” Fleck said with regards to Rhule’s sending-off.
“I know there was no intent from Raymond but if you consider safety of a player, it was the right decision. It wasn’t great for the game. However, the refs do have to take care of the players."
The Stormers players and management will have a two-week break while the Springboks face Wales and England in June, and Fleck said that they’re looking forward to ending their campaign on a positive against the Jaguares and Sharks after the Test break.
“We are out of it now. We thought we had a chance with the Bulls and Sharks losing before us this weekend but no longer” Fleck said.
“But we are still excited that when we get back together in a few weeks ... we can finish the campaign off strong.”