Gert Smal said the close defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra was a mental blow that the Investec Stormers could never recover from and that played a major part in their disappointing Super 12 season.
Smal took stock of a season in which his side finished a lowly ninth on the points’ table after reaching the semifinals last year. He said there were high expectations on the team, not only from the supporters, but also from within the side itself.
“I always set high standards for myself and the team. Obviously the expectations were very high, right from the start because we did so well last year to reach the semifinals.
“But with expectations comes pressure. If we could pull off that Brumbies game, things could have gone so differently. It would have been a huge boost for us, the defeat was in the end a critical result against us.”
Smal said the players might have taken a psychological knock and that affect their confidence and self-belief. “You could see it in the way they played. They made wrong decisions and kicked away possession aimlessly.
“We under-performed and that added the pressure on us. They started to get anxious and things just went worse on the field. We got pressure, not only from outside, but also from inside.
“But that is the nature of the Super 12. It is a tough competition, maybe tougher then the World Cup, because you have to win about eight tough games on almost consecutive weekends to go through to the playoffs.
“Last year, we had continuity and we did well. This year we were badly affected by injuries. If you look at the Bulls, you will see that continuity in team selection was one of their big strong points. That is why they did so well.”
Smal said it was a bitter disappointment to say farewell on such a bad note. It was only the coach’s last game, but also that of assistant coach Carel du Plessis, team manager Thelo Wakefield, physiotherapist Helen Millson and players Breyton Paulse and Pieter Dixon (who did not play).
“Yes, it was a huge disappointment and I share the disappointment of the supporters. I think we hit a Bulls team who played their best rugby in many a year
. “Everything went right for them, while we could do nothing right on the day. Our lineout possession was good and we also had 53% territory and 53% possession, but it is all about what you do with that possession.”
The coach, who will concentrate on his job as Springboks assistant coach for now, said there are a lot to be learnt from that defeat. “The individuals involved – in whatever capacity – should go have a look at themselves.
“We know that we need to put better systems in place and we need to have a look at the whole way of doing things again.”
Smal added that he has no excuses for the sub par performance this year. “We were just not good enough,” he said.