The Stormers’ 57-24 Super Rugby thrashing by the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday was anything but pretty, but coach Robbie Fleck praised his team for the way they “stayed in there and fought” in the second half.
The Crusaders ran in eight tries to the Stormers’ three, and after a promising first 10 minutes by the visitors, things started unravelling badly for Fleck’s men as the only unbeaten team in the competition scored three times through wing George Bridge in just 20 minutes, before skipper Kieran Read also added two of his own before half-time (36-3).
In the second half the Stormers’ defence, which was lacking in the first half to say the least, looked a bit better, and Fleck said that it was this area that was a focus point in the dressing-room at half-time.
“Once they got the roll on us there in the second part of the first half it was tough to stop them. It wasn’t the ideal first half, but credit to our guys. At half-time we said we were going to stay in there and fight,” Fleck said.
“We certainly put up a much-improved performance on defence in the second half. We kept the phases going and we put them under pressure with ball in hand. But like I said, in the first half when they got the ball we just couldn’t stop them.”
The Crusaders typically used the full width of the field, with some pulse-quickening offloading in the tackle by backs and forwards alike. The Stormers tried their best to match them, but they were hit hard by the early loss of centre Dan du Plessis.
In the second half, there were patches where the Stormers looked good with ball in hand and played with more intent, but those moments rarely turned into points on the board. In fact, the Crusaders ended up scoring from two of those promising attacking plays by the Stormers when backs Pete Samu and Manasa Mataela scored intercept tries.
But despite all the Stormers’ shortcomings in this Round Nine fixture, Fleck said that the game produced a number of positives: “The second-half performance gave me a few positives I can take home. We were better defensively and we stopped a lot of their momentum. We were better on attack as well. That’s what we have to look at. We can’t look too much into that first half. They were just too good for us. We struggled to stop their momentum and their offloading game, which was outstanding."
The defeat to the Crusaders is the Stormers’ second in two weeks, after falling to the Lions at Newlands, one week after they put up a masterclass performance at home to beat the Chiefs.
And with two games left on their tour against the Highlanders and the Hurricanes, Fleck said that testing themselves and measuring their progress against the Kiwis will again be the goal when they meet these two teams.
“For us this tour is really about finding each other again against tough teams in tough conditions. We want to play against the best Kiwi teams. We feel that if we can learn from every single performance then it can only stand us in good stead. We’re facing a similar defensive system with a lot of line speed in the Highlanders and the Hurricanes. So we’re going to have to come up with a good plan.”