CAPE TOWN – Hands off Robbie Fleck!
He didn't exactly say it, he didn't have to, but yesterday it was clear that if Stormers assistant coach Paul Feeney had to say something to the under-fire Fleck's nay-sayers, it would be something along those lines.
During a press conference at the team's training base in Bellville, Feeney jumped to Fleck's defence, despite the Stormers' woeful 2018 Super Rugby season and the fact that Fleck took over as interim coach back in 2016 already, so expecting results in his third year is far from unrealistic or unfair.
They've won just five of their 15 matches this year and are officially out of play-off contention, but the former Blues skills coach believes they're better off than they were 12 months ago.
“I see Rob's name up in lights from last year almost beating the Chiefs in the quarter-final and everybody saying how improved the Stormers were to him all of a sudden turning into a s**t coach,” Feeney said.
“We decided to try a few new things this year and some of the things haven't paid off. We changed job descriptions of coaches to see of that could give is an edge. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Some things haven't worked, but we're a lot better off now than we were 12 months ago.”
Feeney also explained that 2019 has always been the year that the Stormers targeted to push for Super Rugby silverware.
“I've got no doubt that Robbie's a good coach. I'm right behind what he does. We've tried things this year knowing that 2019 was our year as a coaching group for our biggest push at winning the competition.”
Despite never having won the competition, not making the play-offs is a situation that will never go down well in Cape Town.
And in terms of results, Feeney also compared their stats to the Bulls' and Sharks' - who both have a game in hand over the Stormers.
“The Bulls are on five victories, I wonder if that makes John Mitchell a bad coach...I don't see that in the press,” he said.
“The Sharks are on six victories, one more than us, does that make Robert du Preez and his assistants bad coaches?”
“We haven't won away from home and we're very disappointed. The Bulls have won one away from home and so have the Sharks. So we're all fairly similar.”
The Stormers' latest disappointment came in Buenos Aires when they lost yet another away game at the weekend. And while Feeney was right when he said that it's sometimes been small margins this season, the fact remains that it's results that matter.
“You've got to give some credit to the Jaguares. They've beaten every South African team they've played this season, not just us. The way I read it in the papers it's like we're the only team that's lost to them,” Feeney said.
“They put 49 on the Lions, they put 50 on the Bulls and they beat the Sharks last week as well, so we played a good side and I think the game was close up until the last five minutes.”
“The last three encounters before Saturday we lost by three points to the Lions after being in control of that match and the red card changed it dramatically, we lost to the Sunwolves by three points after they got a dropped goal in the 83rd minute and we lost ny six points to the Chiefs and that match could have gone either way as well.”
The Stormers' struggles haven't been made any easier by a number of injuries throughout the season, and while Feeney said that injuries wouldn't become his scapegoat, he hinted that the disruption brought by their casualties have been understated.
“I'm not going to use injuries as an excuse. I see people talking about the Bulls being ravaged with injuries, but they've got about half of what we got.”
“Robbie doesn't bang on about injuries in the press, that's not his style. Nobody talks about Eben Etzebeth not playing the whole year, or Bongi (Mbonambi) or JD (Schickerling) and all those guys.”
“That's rugby but we've had our fair share. You need the rub of the green on a few things, and that wasn't one of them.”