Gavin Rich - SuperSport.com
Cape Town - It looks like a case of the Stormers reverting to Plan B following their narrow defeat in a tight Super Rugby derby against the Sharks in Durban at the weekend.
Plan A was still very much in sight for the Stormers before the latest round of competition.
Even after the 52-31 drubbing at the hands of the Lions two weeks ago, coach Robbie Fleck was optimistic that his team would win enough games away in the remainder of the competition to top the South African conference and thus automatically qualify for home ground advantage in the play-offs.
But that plan was dependent on his team winning at Jonnsons Kings Park and a view that the Lions, who have always been comfortable leaders in the conference, would start dropping games once they got to Australasia for their four-match tour. After the latest round it became clear that neither scenario would eventuate – the Lions were outstanding in their big win over the Waratahs in Sydney, while the Sharks got home 24-17 in a battle of two teams who were desperate to win.
So now onto to Plan B, which is to pick up winning momentum at home so that the Stormers can sneak into the play-offs by virtue of finishing in the top eight on the overall log.
“For us winning the conference is unfortunately no longer a reality, the Lions are running away with it,” said Fleck.
“But we can still qualify to do it the hard way by playing away games in the play-offs, and that is our aim now. To win the conference you need to win home and away, that is pretty clear, and we haven’t done that. Our away form has been poor. But we have five home games remaining and at Newlands we are a different kettle of fish.
“We need to regroup and cut down on our errors. We believe we can do it. If we lose that belief then we are in trouble. I thought this game was an improvement for us on our performance against the Lions and on the Bulls before that but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. We are still producing too many soft moments from certain key individuals and it is costing us.”
The Sharks played a lot better than they did against the Bulls, something that Fleck said he expected, and they certainly were much better in the scrums than they were against Western Province in last year’s Currie Cup final. However, he felt that his team had enough opportunities to win the game but were let down by poor decision-making, something that has become a constant lament of the Stormers this season.
“It was a really tight game and I thought we did really well in the first half. The Sharks had all the possession and territory but we defended well and then took our one opportunity that presented itself just before the break. We were in a good space at halftime. We felt we had weathered the pressure. We took a lot of confidence into the second half, but the Sharks played well from the kick-off and we produced a soft moment that set them up for their first try.
“We fought back and went ahead but then there were just too many crucial soft moments from certain individuals, something that has been letting us down all season. We had our opportunities and we were pressing at the end, but we made bad decisions and it cost us. We should have taken a scrum when we won a penalty right at the end.
“The Sharks’ scrumming was better in this game but I still felt we had the dominant scrum. What is disappointing for us is that we do have opportunities but we let ourselves down. Every time we appeared to be getting some ascendancy we would produce errors that let the Sharks back into the game. Every time we scored they seemed to bounce back by scoring themselves,” said Fleck.
“It is those errors that we need to cut out of our game. If we do that we can still make it a good finish to the season,” he added.
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