A repetitive slow-motion car crash, and that’s not the rugby
Despite their great players the Stormers are in a horrid mess, fighting with a feeble coach and a bitter Paul Treu
With the Stormers returning to Newlands for their first Super Rugby home game of the season when they host the Lions on Saturday, it is worth remembering the perilous territory the franchise finds itself in.
On the field, there is the issue of how their hopelessly inadequate coach Robbie Fleck will try to get the best out his talented but malfunctioning players.
Then there is the Paul Treu matter that soiled the Stormers’ preseason efforts.
The Paul Treu ruction hangs like a grey winter cloud, and after their insipid showing against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld it is becoming ever so clear that the Stormers are poorly coached.
Treu, who was their structured play and defence assistant coach last season, complained of unfair discrimination at the hands of Fleck and Paul Feeney, the unstructured play, backs and skills assistant coach.
The magnitude of this matter saw Treu compile a document that he submitted as part of his grievance after he walked out of a meeting in July.
An independent investigation was undertaken by legal firm Bowmans and, according to Western Province Rugby, the final report stated the allegations of unfair discrimination were unfounded.
This report has not been exposed to the public, but a large number of players took part and were reported to be unhappy with being dragged into the issue.
Treu was then earmarked for a performance management position as a possible replacement for current Western Province director of rugby Gert Smal, whose contract expires at the end of October.
If Treu were to occupy this position, he would be managing the same coaches with whom he had a fallout, and with the same players who were not chuffed at being dragged into a disciplinary matter. That is a recipe for disaster.
What is clear from this messy episode is that Treu, who did not return to the Super Rugby coaching group this year, is now persona non grata – but releasing him means the cash-strapped union has to pay him out.
Fleck also comes across as a financial albatross even though his contract expires this year. He was an unexpected replacement for Eddie Jones after the 2015 World Cup when the Australian took up the England coaching job. Fleck presided over a miserable 2018 campaign when the Stormers did not make the playoffs and didn’t win a game on the road.
The two things at play at Newlands are that the board failed to deal effectively with a professional dispute that has seen the amateur and professional arms of the union proverbially go to war; and a hopelessly deficient head coach who is patently unable to get the best out of his talented squad.
If Fleck were a football coach in SA’s Premier Soccer League, he would have failed to see out the season with such a mediocre report card.
WP Rugby are also weird because the amateur arm (more than 90 clubs) still have a say in how the franchise is run. If they want to pull in a different direction, the professional arm is hamstrung from a decisionmaking perspective.
There is so much right with the player personnel at the Stormers but when the board and the coaching staff is severely incapacitated, as it is now, repetitive slow motion car crashes could be the order of the day.
The season is still young but Saturday’s game will provide a fairer idea of the direction the Stormers’ season will take.