Stormers assistant Feeney leaps to Fleck's defence
Cape Town - Stormers assistant coach Paul Feeney has jumped to the defence of under-fire coach Robbie Fleck, saying 2019 was always considered the year that the Capetonians would make their big push at a Super Rugby title.
2018 has been a woeful season for the Stormers, who are now the only side in the South African Conference without a mathematical chance of making the playoffs. They have won just 5 of their 15 matches all season.
The margins have been small, but it's the results that ultimately matter.
Despite having never won the competition, the Stormers have a proud Super Rugby history and missing the playoffs this year has not gone down well.
Never one to mince his words, Feeney came out blazing on Tuesday and backed Fleck's coaching credentials.
"The Bulls are on five victories, aren't they?" the New Zealander pointed out.
"I wonder if that makes John Mitchell a bad coach? I don't see that in the press. The Sharks are on six victories, I think? Is Rob du Preez now a bad coach?
"We haven't won one away from home and we're very disappointed. The Bulls have won one away and so have the Sharks ... we're all fairly similar.
"I've got no doubt that Robbie is 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."
There were a number of big changes in Cape Town this year with Fleck tweaking the job titles of his assistant coaches.
Traditional roles like 'forwards coach' and 'backline coach' went out the window for new roles like 'defensive breakdown specialist' and 'assistant coach for structural play'.
The lines, at least from the outside looking in, became blurred, but Feeney says that there was a clear element of experimentation in 2018.
"We decided to try a few new things this year ... you've got to look forward and develop your group," Feeney explained.
"In our first year as a coaching group, last year, we were pretty happy with our results and this year we wanted to push the boundaries and change a few things. Some of the things we did haven't paid off, it's as simple as that. I'll put my hand up. Some of them were my ideas.
"Now we can look back on what we've done and say that going into year three, which is the year we've always targeted, hopefully we'll be all guns blazing. We're a lot better off than we were 12 months ago now that we've tried a few things."
While Feeney understands the disappointment of the fans, he is adamant that Fleck is the man to take the Stormers forward.
"Last year we nearly beat the Chiefs in the quarter-finals and everyone was saying how improved the Stormers were and now, from one year to the next, all of a sudden he's turned into a poor coach? That surprises me," Feeney said.
"I've been coaching for 25 years and I don't see how coaches go from being pretty good to all of a sudden terrible the next.
"If every coach is scared of losing his job in his second year then nobody will ever try anything.
"I can either coach or I can't; it's as simple as that. If I have a season that was not as good as the season before, does that make me a bad coach? I don't think it does."
The Stormers play their final match of the season on Saturday when they host the Sharks at Newlands.
Kick-off is at 17:15.