CAPE TOWN - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says he’s “frustrated” by the Reds’ “cheap shots” that weren’t dealt with by referee Marius van der Westhuizen on Saturday.
To call what went down at Newlands on Saturday evening poor refereeing is an understatement. It was shocking, and it could be seen in the Reds getting away with shoulder charges, high tackles (that hit on Craig Barry should have been a definite card) and even at the scrums. There were just too many off-the-ball episodes that weren’t given attention to.
The standard of referees is something that seriously needs to be addressed, because it’s ridiculous that the post-match discussions of the performances of Super Rugby referees have become as routine as asking a coach for his thoughts on the game.
To be fair the Stormers didn’t do themselves any favours in the second half. Their handling and passing game that looked so good at times in the first half - like in the build-up to scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage’s try which came after a series of perfectly held and timed passes on the counter by wing Raymond Rhule and outside centre EW Viljoen - turned into missed opportunities again in the second 40.
The Stormers were 18-0 up at the 30-minute mark and they looked set to win the game comfortably, but a late first-half try by the visitors - which came after they exploited the Stormers’ questionable defence - seemed to do enough to give them a boost going into the break.
Again, the Stormers shouldn’t have allowed their game - and their points advantage - to slip, but it should be said that the Reds got away with way too much.
“(I am) A bit frustrated at the end of the game. It was clear that we were the dominant team and dictated most of the game. We dictated the game for the majority of it. I guess our execution let us down, especially in that second half,” Fleck said after the game.
"I guess it was disappointing that we didn’t win by more. Credit to them, they stayed in the fight, scored a good try in the end, but again, the tries before then were due to our errors.
“There were a couple of cheap shots early in the game that weren’t recognised and weren’t dealt with. They are quite a robust team, but there are four incidences that come to mind that weren’t dealt with. But credit to our players for showing composure and dealing with that. I felt that our boys certainly dished out some good hard play in that first half that set the tone.”
The Stormers’ ability to convert their presence in opposition 22 into points has become a troubled area for Fleck’s team. But in their stunning win over the Blues at home last week, there was none of that.
However, as the game against the Aussies progressed and their scoreboard advantage shrunk, their old trouble surfaced again, as they missed a number of opportunities - opportunities that were of course made easier to spill by the Reds’ overeagerness to ruin it for the Stormers.
The Reds did fight back well in the second half, and the match should never have turned into such a close one. But the Stormers should be given credit for not losing it against an extremely niggly Australian side.
There were also a lot of positives for the Stormers to take into their match against the Bulls at Loftus this weekend.
Their set-piece was strong as their lineout functioned well and they produced a few big scrums. They mauled well, and some of the tries they scored should also be a reminder of what they can achieve if they get the basics right.
There were also a number of solid individual performances.
Barry, who was set to start at fullback but then had to shift to the wing as JJ Engelbrecht pulled out of the game due to a haematoma he sustained against the Blues, was immense. He added numerous fine touches to the game, but the one that stood out the most was his fantastic grubber in Reds 22 that bounced perfectly for Rhule to scoop up and score.
Barry’s move to the right wing saw George Whitehead come in at fullback, and Fleck was pleased with Barry’s outing, especially given the injury situation in the backline.
“He’s playing well and it’s much needed, we’re a bit thin in terms of outside backs. He jetted in two weeks ago (from the Cheetahs) and he’s played two very good games for us. So I’m happy with Craig’s performance,” Fleck said.
Rhule’s Man-of-the-Match performance also showed his attacking prowess, while Damian Willemse checked another fine-performance box against Brad Thorn’s team.
The centre pairing of Damian de Allende and Viljoen is also a combination that Fleck can be happy with.
In terms of injuries, Fleck confirmed that Duvenage is the only casualty after the game.
The No 9 will have the extent of his rib injury checked out today, but it seems unlikely that he will be fit for the trip to Pretoria.
Engelbrecht, Dillyn Leyds (calf) and Jano Vermaak (knee) should be fit.