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    Lions game summed up Stormers' season

    2018-05-28 12:57

    Gavin Rich - SuperSport

    Johannesburg - He had still been hopeful beforehand but Stormers coach Robbie Fleck was finally forced to concede after the heart-breaking defeat to the Lions that his team’s race in Super Rugby in 2018 has now been run. 

    The Stormers came as close as any South African team has come in the last three seasons to beating the Lions, and for long periods the conference leaders were outplayed before fate conspired against the Stormers in the form of the red card shown to wing Raymond Rhule following a collision with Ruan Combrinck.

    Fleck was magnanimous in defeat and admitted that the referee, if he was to make the ruling according to the letter of the law, had little option but to red card Rhule as there had been contact with the head and referees are instructed to be strict in those circumstances. However, it was also desperately unlucky as it was also clear there was no intent from Rhule, and the sending off changed and some would say spoiled the game. 

    “This game was in many ways a microcosm of our season overall,” agreed a dejected yet also philosophical Fleck after the 26-23 defeat. 

    “I felt we were controlling the game before the red card, and then when Jaco Coetzee was also carded and we were down to 13 men for a while, the odds were really stacked against us. But I think the Lions for much of the match were outplayed by a fellow South African team for the first time in a long while, and it is credit to the guys that even with 14 men we were still close to a win in the end. We could have won it with 14 men. 

    “It sort of sums up our season though in the way we were so good for periods and then the bounce of the ball went against us, we lost the small margins, and we also let ourselves down with some soft moments and indiscipline.” 

    One of those soft moments Fleck was referring to would have been the poor to non-existent defence around a loose scrum that enabled former Stormers scrumhalf Nic Groom to go over untouched for the Lions’ first try.

    The Stormers’ defence has undeniably improved in recent weeks, but there are still those soft moments that prove costly, and another soft moment could have been Dillyn Leyds losing the ball when the Stormers so desperately needed to hold onto it as they camped in the Lions half at a time when they were holding a four point lead and there were just over four minutes to go.

    The Lions made the most of their gifted possession by playing their way back into the Stormers half, forcing a penalty and then scoring from the resultant attacking line out. 

    “Look, the Lions also made mistakes, it was that sort of game, but that mistake shouldn’t have happened and it was costly,” said Fleck. 

    There have been a couple of costly mistakes made by the Stormers late in games this year, such as when they lost off the last move of away matches against the Waratahs and Sunwolves.

    Mention of the Sunwolves game brings up another point - the Stormers were given the draw from hell this season and with several injuries impacting on their strength early on, it was tough for them to tour Australia and New Zealand and then play three consecutive away derbies, while the Sunwolves match might have turned out differently had it not been played in the middle of the day in freakily humid and hot conditions in Hong Kong. 

    “I bet you we will never see another 13:00 game played in Hong Kong,” said Fleck. 

    “There are reasons we did poorly this year, and we know what they are, but we are not here to make excuses. We lost, but I was chuffed with the effort put in by the boys, how they handled being down to 14 men against a good team like the Lions. 

    “There was a lot of effort out there and we showed that culturally we are strong. That is important. We are out of the competition now but we have two games remaining where we hope to put in the same effort we did today and show what we are capable of. 

    “We started the season with our lineout performing poorly which is why we are currently on only 84% in that aspect of our game, but apart from last week, when we lost three lineouts, our lineouts have improved.

    Our defence was scratchy in the beginning but today I thought we defended well with 14 men against the top try scoring team in the competition. We did have that soft moment when they scored in the first half, but generally our defence has improved.” 

    The remaining Stormers games are against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires and the Sharks in Cape Town. They end the season earlier than the other teams as they have a bye in the last round of round robin.

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