The new season looked like it was going to be a welcome relief to the DHL Stormers players and coaching staff as the off-field politics have dominated the headlines leading into the 2019 Super Rugby Season but that unfortunately, was not the case.
A strong starting line up with an all Springbok back row that included the national captain, Siya Kolisi and the Springbok player of the year, Pieter-Steph du Toit looked to get the Western Cape outfit off to a flyer.
The backline looked solid if unspectacular but their form was good coming into this match and they had beaten the Bulls just two weeks prior to this at the Cape Town Stadium.
Within minutes though the wheels had fallen off. Rosko Specman twice cut through the opposing defence at Loftus with consummate ease to open up an already unassailable lead before half time.
The first will have left Robbie Fleck, the Stormers Head Coach, with his head firmly in his hands.
Specman had a standing start against Dillyn Leyds but the Stormers Full Back look petrified of the pace that the former Blitz Bok sevens star possesses and lost his feet beneath him as Specman waltzed under the sticks on debut.
It must be admitted at this time that some of the decision making from referee Jaco Peyper was going squarely against the men from Cape Town.
In the lead up to the second try, there was a clear out from a ninety-degree angle to the side of the ruck and Peyper chose to ignore it. It was blatant and the referee should be pulled up on it.
The act of scoring was more than dubious as well but it can’t be used as an excuse for such an insipid performance.
Losing Kolisi so early in the match can’t have helped either but the long and short of it is that they weren’t very good and didn’t live up to the pre-season hope that their form had given them.
Robbie Fleck called it an ‘off day’ and he should be commended at not laying any of the blame at the doors of anyone other than himself and the players.
Fleck, as a coach, has always been a figure that divides opinion among the Newlands faithful but there must be sympathy for the situation that he is in right now.
The union is flat broke and acquiring players is proving difficult.
Schalk Brits looked odds on to return to the Province for this season but financially they couldn’t afford him.
Duane Vermeulen a couple of weeks ago came out in the press and said that Thelo Wakefield told him that they would rather develop the younger players than re-sign him to the Stormers.
That thought process is naïve at best. The team are struggling and one of the best Number 8’s in World Rugby wants to play for you but you believe it’s not best for the team.
Vermeulen is only 32 and is in the best shape he has been in for years. He proved that on Saturday.
Both Vermeulen and Brits played a large part in dismantling the Stormers at Loftus and the news is not getting any better for the Capetonians.
Wakefield announced last year that the move from their home at Newlands to the ultra-modern Cape Town Stadium will definitely happen and it will be in 2020.
The outgoing president couldn’t have been more naïve with this statement either. The deal was far from done and for political reasons, it still isn’t.
The naivety comes from the fact that people with multi-year sponsorship or hospitality deals at Newlands heard the news and didn’t renew with the Stadium.
Suite and Debenture Holders couldn’t and wouldn’t renew multi year deals because of the uncertainty and now they are left with even less revenue streams than the depleted one’s that they started the year with.
Two weeks ago the future was there for all to see. The Cape Town Stadium is a magnificent venue and the Super Hero Sunday was a huge success. They won’t sell out every week, of course not, but the location and facilities are on another level to Newlands and it’s time for sentiment to take a back seat and business models to take over.
The stadium is run by the City of Cape Town but is haemorrhaging money so a swift compromise is a must for both parties.
The sadness of days like last Sunday is though, the revenue for that double header will only go into paying off the debts that Newlands has caused them. I hope you can see the irony in all of this?
Then we have the Paul Treu saga. There have been so many conflicting reports around this situation and I am not going to start with the politics that surround it but something happened to cause him to storm out of a meeting, the union were cleared of any wrongdoing around this incident and the players don’t want him at the union.
That is clear as day but now you have players suggesting strike action, players meeting with sponsors to ask them to intervene and Zelt Marais, Wakefield’s replacement, completely denying any involvement in the possibility of Treu becoming Robbie Fleck’s boss, the man who he had walked out on in the first place.
Paul Zacks, the CEO of the Western Province Rugby Group also has a part to play in this. Just 4 months ago he was applying to the Bulls themselves for his equivalent role there.
He subsequently made a statement saying he wouldn’t be pursuing the opportunity but again, it is just more fuel on a raging fire.
Now they are staring down the barrel of a mass player exodus at the end of this season. Eben Etzebeth is off to France and Steven Kitshoff looks destined for Sale in England but there is also a large portion of the playing squad out of contract at the end of the season and no sign of them renewing.
Fleck and Kolisi can put their company cap on in front of the media all they want but the situation must be unbearable for them. They are rugby men through and through so trying to deal with all that is going on off the field will not be comfortable for them in the slightest and has to be detracting from their focus on it.
There is no quick fix for the WP Rugby and they have a very long and rocky road to negotiate but sacking Fleck is not the answer and making the players happy so they can do what they are supposed to do should be at the top of the agenda.
Keep the players away from the politics and keep them on the field.