Cape Town - The on-field part of the Stormers' preparation match at False Bay Rugby Club at the weekend went well but it was overshadowed by the turmoil being enacted off the field as the Paul Treu saga continued to simmer and now threatens to wreck the Cape team’s campaign.
According to SuperSport.com, the Stormers players were locked in an emergency meeting chaired by skipper Siya Kolisi on Sunday afternoon while it is understood that the Western Province union sponsor DHL has given officials an ultimatum that they remove Treu from the system or it may pull out.
The player meeting followed a report in Sunday newspaper Raport in which their suspicions appeared to be confirmed that new WP president Zelt Marais, who is believed to be a strong supporter of Treu, is going to push for the former Blitzbok coach and Stormers defence coach to replace Gert Smal as director of rugby later this year.
Players were angered by a claim from a source quoted as a Treu supporter in the Rapport story that it was only some individuals within the team and the wider Stormers management who have a problem with Treu, which according to them is not the case.
At the heart of the players' unhappiness is the fact that they were thoroughly questioned in the investigation that was conducted by an independent law firm, Bowmans, at the request of WP late last year after Treu had accused the union of discrimination and treating him badly.
The investigation found overwhelmingly that there was no fault and no discrimination on WP's part and players are upset that the only ramification for Treu has been that he has been shifted into a new role as performance director at the union, which they see as potentially creating a platform for him to move into the directorship.
There have been reports that the directorship role will be disbanded to create a new role of performance director, but that really is just a change of name and nothing more.
Some players have expressed their unhappiness with Treu's continued involvement in the system in conversation with SuperSport.com, and player agents have subsequently confirmed that players are so incensed with the latest turn of events that a strike is not completely out of the question.
It has been confirmed that the Sunday report claiming that the playing group approached the sponsors to intervene is accurate.
There has been a series of unabated sideshows off the field throughout the Stormers' preparation for the new season, starting with new president Marais' pre-election assertion that if he took office Stormers personnel could expect 25% salary cuts.
Of course it was an impractical suggestion and Marais has subsequently back-tracked. But indications that he met with Treu before the election and that a Paarl-based faction of club administrators, to which Marais was aligned, campaigned for Smal to be replaced (initially by former Bok coach Peter de Villiers), is known to have further angered Stormers players.
Partly because the amateur arm of the union that continues to control the sport in the Cape represents more than 100 clubs, which almost demands a populist-appeal approach from those electioneering to serve as office-bearers. WP has always been more agenda-driven than other unions.
Players and other members of the professional arm of the union have long suffered in silence, but the latest developments, with players extremely unhappy at any suggestion that Treu might take on a senior coaching role at the union, is seen to be the last straw and the next 48 hours, as the player, sponsor and union stand-off comes to a head, has been described as a watershed for the union.
With the core of the Stormers squad coming off contract later in the year, and the franchises/unions likely to cede to a request from Rassie Erasmus that the window for overseas clubs to negotiate with local players be brought forward so as not to clash with the World Cup build-up, there is understandable concern among the Stormers management that uncertainty over Treu’s potential role at the union going forward could lead to a player exodus.
It is also highly unlikely that any of the coaches working in the Stormers system currently would be happy to work under Treu should he become the WP director or rugby.
Meanwhile there was some rugby at the weekend, although even the warm-up game against False Bay and a Combined Club XV was overshadowed by politics. Initially the plan was for the Stormers to start the warm-up phase to the new season against the strong False Bay team, but pressure was applied on the management and the team eventually ended up playing two separate halves against fresh teams - one half against False Bay, the other against the Club XV.
The Stormers ended up scoring 14 tries across the two halves, or mini-games, which were divided into chukkas, and coach Robbie Fleck wasn't unhappy that the hot conditions and the freshness of the opposition made it a bit more difficult for his men than it might otherwise have been.
"The purpose of this match against the combined clubs was for the guys to have a hit out and see where their conditioning is‚" Fleck said.
"It was tough in the heat but we have to get through these tough conditions. It is something you have to deal with and it takes the guys out of their comfort zone.
"We are pushing the guys to see how good their conditioning is and I was happy to see them get up off the ground and keep going. We will introduce a number of Springbok tourists‚ who were on the November tour but didn't play‚ in the next outing (against the Bulls at Cape Town Stadium on SuperHero Sunday on 3 February)."