Stormers captain Jean de Villiers has defended his side's failure to make the Super Rugby play-offs, citing a variety of causes.
The Western Cape outfit finished in third place in the South African Conference and seventh overall, despite a late surge of wins that brought them back into contention for the play-offs.
After defeating the Bulls 30-13 in the final game of the season at Newlands last weekend, de Villers rounded on the team's critics and stated that the side's coaches were not "idiots".
The Springbok captain also highlighted his side's unfortunate run with injuries and the emotional loss of influential flanker Schalk Burger, which along with several other factors had all contributed towards a difficult start to the season.
"You have to put it all in context. Earlier in the year, when the pressure was on, at times we probably did not respond as we should have - when perhaps we fell back on our strength, which in the past was our defence," de Villiers told Rugby365.
"That's when sometimes you go back into your shell. Sometimes things work in your favour - last year it [defence] worked for us and we finished first on the log, this year we finished seventh, and at one stage we had 16 injuries.
"The plan was always to peak at this stage of the season. There are all these questions: 'What is going on with the Stormers? Why such a bad season?'
"However, if you put it in context, you will see it is not such a bad season, the coaches are not such idiots and they actually planned very well.
"The plan worked, but there were just two or three games we should have won and if we did the situation would have been completely different.
"We didn't get to play the bottom-ranked team in the New Zealand conference or the last-placed team in the Australian conference. We were hit by injuries, at one stage 16 injuries.
"Then the squad was, emotionally, really struck by what Schalk [Burger] went through. That's not something in the distance, it is a friend of yours, he's part of the family.
"Also, what happened with Elton [Jantjies] with [the death of] his dad and what Thinus [Linee] is going through.
"Those are close to home, something within the squad and it hits you hard emotionally. A lot happened this year and still we managed to beat five out of the top six [teams in the competition].
"If you get some consistency and you can name the same side for five, six weeks in a row, then perhaps you won't crawl into your shell. That was the situation with the injuries.
"We are not in the play-offs, but we can still be proud of what we achieved and I am still proud to call myself a Stormer.
"The [WP] Under-13s won Craven Week, the Under-16s won [the] Grant Khomo [tournament], the Under-18s won Craven Week and we won. They must be doing something right in Western Province. Maybe we should start toning down all this negativity attached to WP and the Stormers."