Cape Town – Robbie Fleck tried his best to wear a smile at Saturday’s post-match press conference at Newlands, but his first taste of defeat as Stormers coach was clearly taking its toll.
It was a battle of epic proportions, and the Sharks’ 18-13 win will be remembered for ‘that’ penalty try.
Fleck was visibly hurt – there can be no question marks over his commitment to the cause.
He sidestepped questions over the merits of the penalty try, gave the Sharks credit and highlighted the positives in his side’s performance – the expected routine of a coach trying his best to lose with grace.
It was subtle, but Fleck pointed at the Sharks game with a suggestion that the Stormers’ cause was a more noble one.
The match-day stats show that the Stormers had more of the ball, and the Sharks’ kicking game and defence were what proved decisive at the end.
“We expected that. I didn’t expect anything different from the Sharks, that’s their mind-set,” Fleck offered after the match in response to a question over the Sharks’ tactical kicking.
“They certainly didn’t try and run at us, and they exploited us with the kicking game. We’re going to face the same thing with the Brumbies so we need to sharpen up there.”
It was like watching a football manager talk about how his side had dominated a match against opposition that had ‘parked the bus’ – prioritising defence over attack.
“I can take a huge amount of positives out of this performance … we’re on a different path to them and we certainly will take comfort in the fact that we can build so many phases on attack and put the defence under pressure,” Fleck continued.
“I certainly think that they’ve got one of the best defences in the competition … we’ll take huge confidence in a lot of the stuff that we did today.
“They’re playing a certain style and we want to play a different style and we’re going to keep working on that.
“They’ve squeezed out a win against us here and that’s disappointing, but we’re keen. We’re keen to keep improving and we’re going to continue on the path that we’ve chosen and we’re looking forward to this weekend.”
The Stormers look set to continue in their endeavour to be expansive and exciting but on Saturday, despite their intent, there was little to suggest that such a philosophy is ready to bare any fruit just yet.