Decisive leadership within the Stormers would see coach Robbie Fleck given the boot. Fleck though will survive in a region where mediocrity is rewarded.
Fleck will be around in 2019 and so will all the rhetoric of processes and of positives. The results won’t be any different for the Stormers in 2019 and once again the defence that will be offered is that hindsight is not a science.
The Stormers bosses don’t have to rely on hindsight to know where the Stormers graph is going. They simply have to be able to read to see that Fleck’s coaching tenure has been anything but terrific.
Don’t confuse this as an attack on Fleck’s character. Quite the contrary, the reason Fleck has enjoyed a comfortable media engagement is because of a character that is endearing, enjoyable and salt of the earth.
Fleck, to quote many, is a bloody good guy. He’s a top man and what you see is what you get. There is no pretence. He was the same as a player.
Results, however, define coaches. Results separate the pretenders from the contenders and the chumps from the champs. Fleck’s Stormers aren’t quite chumps but they’ll never be champs.
They are very much pretenders and pretenders always have a three-year plan and an escape for the time that they are under achieving within this cycle.
Fleck’s Stormers in 2018 have regressed from the squad that lost the 2017 quarter-final at home to the Chiefs. There is nothing collectively positive about the Stormers of 2018, in terms of performance.
Individually there have been success stories and the squad, as ambassadors for the game, are among the most popular teams. They’re a likeable bunch, which means the criticism is more measured than malicious.
They’re a team that so many want to succeed because they speak to so much that is good about the region and the country. They’re a transformed team that is the face of every culture in the Western Cape. But they haven’t got the results, and under Fleck they aren’t going to be getting them in 2019.
Fleck is still a pup in terms of coaching. I’m not for one moment suggesting this is the end of Robbie Fleck as a coach. I believe a term overseas would improve Fleck as a coach. I could see him returning to the Western Cape in five years and making a realistic impact.
But to applaud him for what the Stormers have produced would be to insult him.
The Stormers, in winning just six matches from 16, conceded 10 more tries than they scored (46-56) and they also conceded more points than they scored. If the ledger shows a minus your team isn’t going to the playoffs.
In 2017 the Stormers finished with 43 league points and this season they totalled 29. They scored 18 tries less and played one match more. Their defensive record was equally poor in both seasons, so the collective shows only a plunge from which there won’t easily be a lift off in 2019.
It’s the curse of so much in South African rugby that mediocrity is allowed to parade itself so prominently; where results are secondary to boardroom agendas and political plays.
The crime here isn’t that Fleck was given a three-year contract. The crime is that it will need another season of abject failure for it to change. And even then it’s not a guaranteed bet.
Contrast the Stormers to the Crusaders.
Scott Robertson, having had just the one season with the Canterbury provincial team, applied for the Crusaders job with the aim to win the title in his first year. He did this and the Crusaders are on track to defend the title.
Robertson’s Crusaders have shown the most remarkable consistency. In 2017 the Crusaders finished with 63 league points. In 2018 they have 63 league points. In 2017 they scored 77 tries. In 2018 they scored 77 tries. In 2017 they conceded 37 tries and in 2018 they conceded 39. The points differential in 2017 was 241 and in 2018 it is 247.
Robertson’s Crusaders played significant times without several of their All Blacks.
It’s proof that if the right individual is in charge then the results come immediately.
The Bulls, like the Stormers, are about cycles and never immediacy.
I believe John Mitchell is a very good coach but Sport 24 editor Garrin Lambley’s column that too many of us have an unhealthy obsession with Mitchell, myself included, was an eye-opener. Mitchell, as a head coach, had very limited success with the Chiefs, Force and Lions in Super Rugby, and his first season at the Bulls started with a stunning win against the Hurricanes and ended with a whimper at Ellis Park.
Mitchell is refusing to extend his contract beyond 2019 unless he gets better players. But it’s not just about the players because the defensive system that has leaked the third most points out of 15 teams is down to coaching.
Former Bulls coach Nollis Marais was rightly caned because of a 2017 campaign, in which the Bulls won just four from 15 and conceded 59 tries. Mitchell’s Bulls, in embracing a more attacking game, scored 25 more tries in 2018 but also conceded 66, which was seven more than in 2017.
Mitchell’s Bulls also conceded 502 points, compared to the 459 of 2017.
Why then is 2018 being hailed as anything but a failure for the Bulls?
It’s what happens when the mediocre is dressed up as having the potential to be magnificent, but the reality is that it is everything but magnificent.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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