Losing hurts but it is a lot easier to take a lesson when you are hurting. Often there are few lessons taken on board when somehow you win in a match you all know you could have lost because the performance was not up to standard.
The DHL Stormers are hurting from the Heineken Champions Cup defeat against Clermont, as players, coaches and support staff. We are hurting because the performance in the second half wasn’t good enough to win – and the one thing we pride ourselves on is effort, and the effort was the antithesis of everything we believe in as a squad.
The biggest lesson to bring back from France was a reminder of just how strong we are when we are singularly focused and anchored as to the power of the collective when it comes to defining the DHL Stormers.
Some would and could say I am being too harsh on us and say it was no rugby crime to lose 24-14 away to Clermont, a team that at home, before our match, had only lost three from 35 European competition matches.
I wrote last week we could become another historical statistic, or we could be part of the history makers. We returned home as a statistic, adding to their incredible home record.
I heard some saying it was always going to be difficult integrating international players back into the system, with them having been away for a month. If you want to find a comforting excuse, I guess anyone can.
I have also heard some tell me to relax, it is the norm to lose away from home in the group stages of European competitions, but for me to even entertain such thoughts would be a cop-out and I’d be doing a disservice to everything I speak about to you all every week.
We are a squad that prides itself on honesty and on transparency. These are the qualities that have made us so difficult to beat, regardless of where we play our matches at the DHL Stadium, in South Africa and overseas.
It hurts to lose, but a part of me will always accept it if beaten by a better team or an opponent that on the day simply played better. What we as a team can never do is lose ourselves or lose each other in the context of battle. That is unacceptable. We can’t individually stray from the game plan, drift in and out of the contest and not expect difficulties.
Unity is a collective and it is this unity in everything we do against London Irish that will be paramount to success on Saturday.
It is an education balancing squads to play in different competitions concurrently, but our players and our rugby will be better for the pressure that comes with these demands.
It is our unity as a squad that gives me confidence each time we play, and it is this unity, in effort, in appreciation of each one’s role and in dedication to each physical act, be it a tackle, the pre-empting of the possibility of a cover tackle, clean-out or a dominant collision, that gives us on-field presence and winning results.
Equally, it is playing with intelligence and with the respect to the rest of the team that every individual act has a knock-on effect to the team collective.
There were big lessons in the indifference of our second half performance in Clermont, but we are privileged as a squad to one week later exorcise the demons that contributed to defeat.
Our aim is to win, but the bigger picture is to deliver a performance befitting of a DHL Stormers squad who in the past 18 months have always been able to comfortably eyeball each other afterwards knowing that they’d given everything for each other and for their incredible support base. It has always made the post-match embrace so enjoyable.
December rugby is different and summer rugby is different, but it is the new norm.
Every weekend we are learning something new, about the competition and about ourselves.
I hope to see as many of you as possible at the DHL Stadium on Saturday and I hope we can give you a performance – in effort – that matches your effort in every sacrifice you make to get to the stadium to be our extra on-field player.