Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - There are happy hangovers and there are gloomy hangovers ... expect many of the Stormers’ players and management to have woken up on Sunday very much nursing the latter.
A deeply sombre mood had already set in within minutes of their gut-wrenching Super Rugby home semi-final defeat to domestic rivals the Sharks on Saturday night; it was etched all over the faces - with tears seemingly not far away - of coach Allister Coetzee
and captain Jean de Villiers at the post-match press conference.
As well as being fine rugby men (it would be most unfair to suggest anything but, wouldn’t it?), both are normally radiant, wise-cracking souls at these briefings.
So Saturday’s occasion stood out like the proverbial sore thumb: ashen-faced Springbok skipper De Villiers looked especially distraught and even spoke unjustifiably, considering his excellent early leadership of his country, of “starting to doubt myself, and my captaincy”.
If splitting a Currie Cup, after all, was famously described by Morne du Plessis in 1979 as “like kissing your sister”, then winning the South African Super Rugby conference for two years on the trot yet failing to land the really relevant prize must be like being tasked with dancing all night at the ball with your mother in law.
Mind you, considering that they have not even claimed so much as a share of the Currie Cup in the 11 years since 2001, even that would be deemed a more satisfactory outcome by many - though there seems more than a hint of sadism in the fact that their domestic programme starts against the very Sharks, also at Newlands, in less than a fortnight.
So if they’re going to pick up the pieces from another failed first-class campaign, the old headache powder is going to have to start working pretty fast.
Deep down the Stormers will know, for all the stubborn and not completely unmerited talk of “strides toward trophies”, that 2012 represented a particularly glorious opportunity to win the Super Rugby crown.
Let’s face it, potential rights to a home final by topping the overall log don’t happen every day - who knows, the Stormers may actually play better in this tough competition in 2013, yet not end up quite as loftily placed after ordinary season.
It is the way the cookie can crumble in sport.
The dignity of Coetzee and De Villiers was first-rate: before dissecting the latest, unpalatable failure to negotiate a key hurdle they made a very conscious point of lauding the Sharks for their hugely gutsy 26-19 triumph.
Just as exemplary was the way shattered Stormers personnel dutifully stuck to their on-field autograph commitments to young fans as the dust settled on a battle royale.
It just couldn’t quite disguise the fact that the nice guys had effectively come second once more.
“I’ve never seen players so cut up in a changing room,” Coetzee admitted, his own voice faltering just a little as he said it. “But that’s life’s lessons. You can give up or (fight back).
“I’d still like to take the emotion out of it by saying we are one of three sides who have improved this season, and haven’t regressed - us, and (now-confirmed 2012 finalists) the Chiefs and Sharks. For the Stormers to have made that step in a positive direction, I am still pleased with the season.”
He did admit, when the inevitable question related to the team’s generally try-shy characteristic came up: “We have to learn, and move on, and become a bit more clinical with ball in hand, and have the patience ... I accept that.
“Remember that in last year’s semi against the Crusaders we basically gave up ... perhaps not gave up, but were certainly over-powered. There wasn’t even a chance to come back - tonight we had a say right to the final whistle, and for that reason I am still flipping proud to be coach of this side.
“If it takes another four seasons, I will never stop fighting ... we are going to win that cup.”
Coetzee promised there would a thorough review of the latest disappointment.
“In two days’ time, when we have our wash-out, we will see: where do we really need to (look)? Is it a personnel thing? What is the way forward for this Stormers side?
“I would like to ask some fans, though: what do they think of some sides who only win three games in this competition? But I understand our standards are very high in Cape Town and respect that. It is my duty and responsibility to see that we get it right.”
De Villiers described the result as “a tough one to swallow”, adding: “Could we have prepared better? No. Did we have the right attitude on the field? Yes. Was the commitment there? Yes.
“It probably came down to us not using those opportunities we did create. It’ll take a while to get over, but we have to give credit to the Sharks.
“We went through some dark places this season and came out on top, so for that I’m very proud to be part of this team. It’s a pity about tonight, though.”
And so, no doubt, say many of the Stormers’ swollen, long-suffering fan base ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing