With one more defeat, the Stormers’ Super Rugby season will be over. Like so many before, this one will likely also fade into obscurity. Yes, the Super Rugby competition boasts some of the best teams in the world, but even amongst South African teams the Stormers may still finish lowest.
With an all star squad to call on such a result must surely be seen as a massive failure. From 1-6, they started with incumbent Springboks in Kitshoff, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph, and Kolisi. Not only are they some of the best in the country at their respective positions, but they also come with experience and leadership abilities which compares to the triumphant Bulls squad of 2009. Add to this core group further Springboks in Louw, Notshe, De Allende, Willemse, Engelbrecht and Lleyds, with probable future Springboks in Wiese, Coetzee, Petersen and Jantjies, and you should have a squad most coaches would sacrifice an arm for.
Yet for the second year in a row, Robbie Fleck and his staff failed to achieve any significant success. Granted, he had some off-field distractions involving a dispute with Paul Treu, while rumours of bankruptcy and pay cuts at the franchise may also not have helped. Few coaches are, however, lucky enough to operate under ideal conditions and for the most part, Fleck had a strong group of players to work with over his three years in charge.
It is therefore not surprising that the franchise has decided to relieve Fleck of his duties and appoint a new coach for 2020.
This will be John Dobson and his assistant coaches, who will likely be Norman Laker and Dawie Snyman. This coaching trio offers a proven record: as the coaching staff of Western Province they made the Currie Cup finals for two years in a row, winning it once.
Significantly, the final was the only match they lost in 2018.
Those who followed the Western Province campaign last year, or indeed watched any of their games, would remember what an unstoppable force they were up until the playoff stages.
Their gameplay was characterised by a suffocating defence, masterminded by Laker, while the likes of Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel and EW Viljoen flourished under Snyman as their backline coach. It resulted in them scoring the most points, conceding the fewest and ultimately achieving a points difference of 163. To place this into perspective, the Sharks ranked second with 60.
What makes Dobson an alluring prospect with the Stormers in 2020, is his ability to get the most out of players. Under his tutelage, Josh Stander went from being a Bulls discard to becoming the general which directed the 2018 Western Province juggernaut. After getting the backing from Dobson, his confidence grew each game and so did his performances. The same can be said for Sergeal Petersen, Ramone Samuels, Ruhan Nel, and JD Schickerling, who all played themselves into the end of year Springbok touring squad.
The most telling of Dobson’s traits is the show of faith in him from senior players. Pieter-Steph du Toit, JD Schickerling, Bongi Mbonambi, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff and Siya Kolisi have all agreed to sign contracts to play for the Stormers following the World Cup and it is evident that the appointment of John Dobson was an important factor in their decision. For so many top tier players to stay after a World Cup is in itself a rarity, considering the number of Springboks from the other South African Super Rugby franchises who have decided to leave after 2019.
It means that when he starts as Stormers coach next year, Dobson will have an advantage over the other South African teams who will lose most of their best and experienced players. Where the Stormers will, so far, only lose Eben Etzebeth among their prominent players, the Bulls for example, will be without Handre Pollard, Jesse Kriel, Schalk Brits, Lood De Jager and RG Snyman, while the Sharks will lose Ruan Botha, Akker van der Merwe, Coenie Oosthuizen, and all of Dan, Jean-Luc and Robert Du Preez.
All of these factors point to a promising year for the Stormers in 2020, and fans will be hoping that John Dobson is the man to bring it about.
Photo Credit: Megan Trace